BOSTON -- THE BIG DIG
See UPDATE in column to the left for TROLLY SPECIFIC Information--the Big Dig article is about overall transportation problems and solutions in the Boston Area.
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For other uses, see Big Dig (disambiguation).
The Central Artery/Tunnel Project (CA/T): This is known unofficially as the Big Dig, was a megaproject in Boston that rerouted the Central Artery (Interstate 93), the chief highway through the heart of the city, into a 3.5-mile (5.6-km) tunnel. The project also included the construction of the Ted Williams Tunnel (extending Interstate 90 to Logan International Airport), the Leonard P. Zakim Bunker Hill Memorial Bridge over the Charles River, and the Rose Kennedy Greenway in the space vacated by the previous I-93 elevated roadway. Initially, the plan was also to include a rail connection between Boston's two major train terminals. The project concluded on December 31, 2007, when the partnership between program manager Bechtel/Parsons Brinckerhoff and the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority ended.
The Big Dig was the most expensive highway project in the U.S. Although the project was estimated in 1985 at $2.8 billion (in 1982 dollars, US$6.0 billion adjusted for inflation as of 2006[update]), over $14.6 billion ($8.08 billion in 1982 dollars) had been spent in federal and state tax dollars as of 2006[update]. A July 17, 2008 article in The Boston Globe stated, "In all, the project will cost an additional $7 billion in interest, bringing the total to a staggering $22 billion, according to a Globe review of hundreds of pages of state documents. It will not be paid off until 2038." At the beginning of the project, Congressman Barney Frank joked, "Wouldn't it be cheaper to raise the city than depress the artery?" The project has incurred criminal arrests, escalating costs, death, leaks, and charges of poor execution and use of substandard materials. Former Massachusetts Attorney General Thomas Reilly demanded that contractors refund taxpayers $108 million for "shoddy work". On January 23, 2008, it was reported that Bechtel/Parsons Brinckerhoff, the consortium that oversaw the project, would pay $407 million in restitution for its poor oversight of subcontractors (some of whom committed outright fraud), as well as primary responsibility in the death of a motorist. However, despite admitting to poor oversight and negligence as part of the settlement, the firm is not barred from bidding for future government contracts. Several smaller companies agreed to pay a combined sum of approximately $51 million.
Traffic on the old, elevated Central Artery at mid-day.This project was developed in response to traffic congestion on Boston's historically tangled streets, which were laid out long before the advent of the automobile. By mid-20th century, car traffic in the inner city was extremely congested, especially for north–south trips. Commissioner of Public Works William Callahan pushed through plans for an elevated expressway, which eventually was constructed between the downtown area and the waterfront. This "Central Artery" (known officially as the John F. Fitzgerald Expressway) displaced thousands of residents and businesses, and physically divided the historical connection between the downtown and market areas and the waterfront. Governor John Volpe interceded in the 1950s to send the last section of the Central Artery underground, through the Dewey Square (or "South Station") Tunnel; while traffic moved somewhat better, the other problems remained. There was chronic congestion on the Central Artery (I-93), an elevated six-lane highway through the center of downtown Boston, which was, in the words of Pete Sigmund, "like a funnel full of slowly-moving, or stopped, cars (and swearing motorists)." In 1959, the 1.5-mile-long (2.4 km) road section carried approximately 75,000 vehicles a day, but by the 1990s, this had grown to 190,000 vehicles a day. Traffic jams of 16 hours were predicted for 2010.
Built before strict federal Interstate Highway standards were developed during the Dwight D. Eisenhower administration, the expressway was plagued by tight turns, an excessive number of entrances and exits, entrance ramps without merge lanes, and continually escalating vehicular loads. Local businesses again wanted relief, historians sought a reuniting of the waterfront with the city, and nearby residents desired removal of the matte green-painted elevated road, which mayor Thomas Menino called Boston's "other Green Monster". M.I.T. engineers Bill Reynolds and (eventual state Secretary of Transportation) Frederick P. Salvucci envisioned moving the whole expressway underground.
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Zakim Bunker Hill Bridge over the Charles River under construction, looking north. The old elevated Central Artery crossing is to the right.Another important motivation for the Big Dig in its final form was the abandonment of the Massachusetts Highway Department's intended expressway system through and around Boston. The Central Artery, as part of MassHighway's Master Plan of 1948, was originally planned to be the downtown Boston stretch of Interstate 95, and was signed as such; a bypass road called the Inner Belt (officially Interstate 695) was to pass around the downtown core to the west, through the neighborhood of Roxbury and the cities of Brookline, Cambridge, and Somerville. However, earlier controversies over impact of the Boston extension of the Massachusetts Turnpike, particularly on the heavily populated neighborhood of Brighton, and the large number of additional homes that would have had to be destroyed, led to massive community opposition to both the Inner Belt and the Boston section of I-95.
Clearances for I-95 through the neighborhoods of Roxbury, Jamaica Plain, and Roslindale led to secession threats by Hyde Park, Boston's southernmost neighborhood, and the neighborhood most recently added to the city, in 1912. By 1972, however, with only a minimum of work done on the I-95 right of way and none on the potentially massively disruptive Inner Belt, Governor Francis Sargent put a moratorium on highway construction within the MA-128 corridor, except for a short stretch of Interstate 93. In 1974 the remainder of the Master Plan was canceled, leaving Boston with a severely overstressed expressway system.
With ever-increasing traffic volumes funneled onto I-93 alone, the Central Artery became chronically gridlocked. The Sargent moratorium led to the rerouting of I-95 away from Boston around the MA-128 beltway and the conversion of the cleared land in the southern part of the city into the Southwest Corridor linear park and a new right of way for the Orange Line subway and Amtrak. Parts of the planned I-695 right of way remain unused and under consideration for future mass transit projects.
The original 1948 Master Plan included a Third Harbor Tunnel plan that was hugely controversial in its own right because it would have disrupted the Maverick Square area of East Boston. It was never built.
Mixing of traffic: A major reason for the all-day congestion was that the Central Artery carried not only north–south traffic, but much east–west traffic as well. Boston's Logan Airport lies across Boston Harbor in East Boston, and before the Big Dig the only access from downtown was through the paired Callahan and Sumner tunnels. Traffic on the major highways from west of Boston—the Massachusetts Turnpike and Storrow Drive—mostly traveled on portions of the Central Artery to reach these tunnels. Getting between the Central Artery and the tunnels involved short diversions onto city streets, increasing local congestion.
The final Big Dig plan, then, combined several projects—the depression and improvement of the Central Artery, the construction of a third Harbor tunnel (now known as the Ted Williams Tunnel), and massive interchange improvements to the Massachusetts Turnpike and several other major routes in the area. While only one net lane in each direction was added to the north–south I-93, several new east–west lanes were added to untangle the traffic. East–west traffic on the Massachusetts Turnpike now proceeds directly through the Ted Williams Tunnel to Logan Airport and Route 1A beyond, with new exits in South Boston along the way. Traffic between Storrow Drive and the Callahan and Sumner Tunnels uses a short portion of I-93, but additional lanes and direct connections are provided for this traffic.
Mass transit: A number of public transportation projects were included as part of an environmental mitigation for the Big Dig. The most expensive was the building of the Phase II Silver Line tunnel under Fort Point Channel, done in coordination with Big Dig construction. Silver Line buses now use this tunnel and the Ted Williams Tunnel to link South Station and Logan Airport.
As of 2010[update], promised projects to restore the Green Line streetcar service to the Arborway in Jamaica Plain, to extend the Green Line beyond Lechmere, and to connect the Red and Blue subway lines have not been completed. The extension beyond Lechmere is in progress and the Red and Blue subway line connection is being designed; the status of the Arborway Line is unclear.
Yet another plan, the North-South Rail Link that would have connected North and South Stations (the major passenger train stations in Boston), was part of the original Big Dig but was ultimately dropped by the Dukakis administration as an impediment to acquiring federal funding for the project.
Early planning: The project was conceived in the 1970s by the Boston Transportation Planning Review to replace the rusting elevated six-lane Central Artery. The expressway separated downtown from the waterfront, and was increasingly choked with bumper-to-bumper traffic. Business leaders were more concerned about access to Logan Airport, and pushed instead for a third harbor tunnel. In their second terms, Michael Dukakis (governor) and Fred Salvucci (secretary of transportation) came up with the strategy of tying the two projects together—thereby combining the project that the business community supported with the project that they and the City of Boston supported.
Planning for the Big Dig as a project officially began in 1982, with environmental impact studies starting in 1983. After years of extensive lobbying for federal dollars, a 1987 public works bill appropriating funding for the Big Dig was passed by U.S. Congress, but it was subsequently vetoed by President Ronald Reagan as being too expensive. When Congress overrode his veto, the project had its green light and ground was first broken in 1991.
The Massachusetts Turnpike Authority (MTA), which had little experience in managing an undertaking of the scope and magnitude of the CA/T Project, hired a joint venture of Bechtel/Parsons Brinckerhoff to provide preliminary designs, manage design consultants and construction contractors, track the project's cost and schedule, advise MTA on project decisions, and (in some instances) act as the MTA's representative. Eventually, MTA combined some of its employees with Bechtel/Parsons employees in an integrated project organization. This was intended to make management more efficient, but it hindered MTA's ability to independently oversee Bechtel/Parsons Brinckerhoff because MTA and Bechtel/Parsons Brinckerhoff had effectively become partners in the project.
Obstacles: In addition to these political and financial difficulties, the project faced several environmental and engineering obstacles.
The downtown area through which the tunnels were to be dug was largely landfill, and included existing subway lines as well as innumerable pipes and utility lines that would have to be replaced or moved. Tunnel workers encountered many unexpected geological and archaeological barriers, ranging from glacial debris to foundations of buried houses and a number of sunken ships lying within the reclaimed land.
The project received approval from state environmental agencies in 1991, after satisfying concerns including release of toxins by the excavation and the possibility of disrupting the homes of millions of rats, causing them to roam the streets of Boston in search of new housing. By the time the federal environmental clearances were delivered in 1994, the process had taken some seven years, during which time inflation greatly increased the project's original cost estimates.
Reworking such a busy corridor without seriously restricting traffic flow required a number of state-of-the-art construction techniques. Because the old elevated highway (which remained in operation throughout the construction process) rested on pylons located throughout the designated dig area, engineers first utilized slurry wall techniques to create 120 ft (37 m).-deep concrete walls upon which the highway could rest. These concrete walls also stabilized the sides of the site, preventing cave-ins during the excavation process.
The multi-lane interstates also had to pass under South Station's 7 tracks, which carried over 40,000 commuters and 400 trains per day. To avoid multiple relocations of train lines while the tunneling advanced, as had been initially planned, a specially designed jack was constructed to support the ground and tracks to allow the excavation to take place below. Construction crews also used Ground freezing to help stabilize surrounding ground as they excavated the tunnel. This was the largest tunneling project undertaken beneath railway lines anywhere in the world. The ground freezing enabled safer, more efficient excavation, and also assisted in environmental issues, as less contaminated fill needed to be exported than if a traditional cut-and-cover method had been applied.
Other challenges included an existing subway tunnel crossing the path of the underground highway. To build slurry walls past this tunnel, it was necessary to dig beneath the tunnel and build an underground concrete bridge to support the tunnel's weight.
Construction phase: Construction sites of the "Big Dig"The project was managed by the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority, with the Big Dig and the Turnpike's Boston Extension from the 1960s being financially and legally joined by the legislature as the Metropolitan Highway System. Design and construction was supervised by a joint venture of Bechtel Corporation and Parsons Brinckerhoff. Because of the enormous size of the project—too large for any company to undertake alone—the design and construction of the Big Dig were broken up into dozens of smaller subprojects with well-defined interfaces between contractors. Major heavy-construction contractors on the project included Jay Cashman, Modern Continental, Obayashi Corporation, Perini Corporation, Peter Kiewit Sons' Incorporated, J.F. White, and the Slattery division of Skanska USA. (Of those, Modern Continental was awarded the greatest gross value of contracts, joint ventures included.)
The nature of the Charles River crossing had been a source of major controversy throughout the design phase of the project. Many environmental advocates preferred a river crossing entirely in tunnels, but this, along with 27 other plans, was rejected as too costly. Finally, with a deadline looming to begin construction on a separate project that would connect the Tobin Bridge to the Charles River crossing, Salvucci overrode the objections and chose a variant of the plan known as "Scheme Z". This plan was considered to be reasonably cost-effective, but had the drawback of requiring highway ramps stacked up as high as 100 feet (30 m) immediately adjacent to the Charles River.
The city of Cambridge objected to the visual impact of the chosen Charles River crossing design. It sued to revoke the project's environmental certificate and forced the project to redesign the river crossing again.
Leonard P. Zakim Bridge: Swiss Engineer Christian Menn took over the design of the bridge. He suggested a sleek, modern, cable-stayed bridge that would carry 10 lanes of traffic. The plan was accepted and construction began on the Leonard P. Zakim Bunker Hill Memorial Bridge. The bridge employed an asymmetrical design and a hybrid of steel and concrete was used to construct it. The distinctive bridge is supported by two forked towers connected to the span by cables and girders. It was the first bridge in the country to employ this method and it is the widest cable-stayed bridge in the world.
Meanwhile, construction continued on the Tobin Bridge approach. By the time all parties agreed on the I-93 design, construction of the Tobin connector (today known as the "City Square Tunnel" for a Charlestown area it bypasses) was far along, significantly adding to the cost of constructing the U.S. 1 interchange and retrofitting the tunnel.
Boston blue clay and other soils extracted from the path of the tunnel were used to cap many local landfills, fill in the Granite Rail Quarry in Quincy, and restore the surface of Spectacle Island in the Boston Harbor Islands National Recreation Area.
The Storrow Drive Connector, a companion bridge to the Zakim, began carrying traffic from I-93 to Storrow Drive in 1999. The project had been under consideration for years, but was opposed by the wealthy residents of the Beacon Hill neighborhood. However, it finally was accepted because it would funnel traffic bound for Storrow Drive and downtown Boston away from the mainline roadway. The Connector ultimately used a pair of ramps that had been constructed for Interstate 695, enabling the mainline I-93 to carry more traffic that would have used I-695 under the original Master Plan.
When construction began, the project cost, including the Charles River crossing, was estimated at $5.8 billion. Eventual cost overruns were so high that the chairman of the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority, James Kerasiotes, was fired in 2000. His replacement had to commit to an $8.55 billion cap on federal contributions. Total expenses eventually passed $15 billion. Interest brought this cost to $21.93 billion.
Engineering methods and details: Temporary supports hold up elevated Central Artery during construction.Several unusual engineering challenges arose during the project, requiring unusual solutions and methods to address them.
At the beginning of the project, engineers had to figure out the safest way to build the tunnel without endangering the existing elevated highway above. Eventually, they created horizontal braces as wide as the tunnel, then cut away the elevated highway's struts, and lowered it onto the new braces.
Final phases: Interstate 93 TunnelOn January 17, 2003, the opening ceremony was held for the I-90 Connector Tunnel, extending the Massachusetts Turnpike (Interstate 90) east into the Ted Williams Tunnel, and onwards to Logan Airport. The Ted Williams tunnel had been completed and in limited use for commercial traffic and high-occupancy vehicles since late 1995. The westbound lanes opened on the afternoon of January 18 and the eastbound lanes on January 19.
The next phase, moving the elevated Interstate 93 underground, was completed in two stages: northbound lanes opened in March 2003 and southbound lanes (in a temporary configuration) on December 20, 2003. A tunnel underneath Leverett Circle connecting eastbound Storrow Drive to I-93 North and the Tobin Bridge opened December 19, 2004, easing congestion at the circle. All southbound lanes of I-93 opened to traffic on March 5, 2005, including the left lane of the Zakim Bridge, and all of the refurbished Dewey Square Tunnel.
By the end of December 2004, 95% of the Big Dig was completed. Major construction remained on the surface, including construction of final ramp configurations in the North End and in the South Bay interchange, and reconstruction of the surface streets.
The final ramp downtown — exit 20B from I-93 south to Albany Street — opened January 13, 2006.
In 2006, the two Interstate 93 tunnels were dedicated as the Thomas "Tip" O'Neill Tunnel, after the former Democratic speaker of the House of Representatives from Massachusetts who pushed to have the Big Dig funded by the federal government.
Mitigation projects: The "Big Dig" project in Boston This section requires expansion.
(For more information about the public transit mitigation projects, see Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority.)
Many environmental impact mitigation projects (transit, pedestrian, bicycle, and parks) also remain. Although these were legal requirements for approval of the environmental impact statement, many are not funded because of the massive cost overruns on the highway portion of the project. For example, though the North Point Park was created as part of the project, it ended without constructing pedestrian bridges to neighboring parks.
While not a legally mandated requirement, public art was part of the urban design planning process (and later design development work) through the Artery Arts Program. The intent of the program was to integrate public art into highway infrastructure (retaining walls, fences, and lighting) and the essential elements of the pedestrian environment (walkways, park landscape elements, and bridges). As overall project costs increased, the Artery Arts Program was seen as a potential liability, even though there was support and interest from the public and professional arts organizations in the area.
At the beginning of the highway design process, a temporary arts program was initiated and over 50 proposals were selected. However, development began on only a few projects before funding for the program was cut. Permanent public art that was funded includes: super graphic text and facades of former West End houses cast into the concrete elevated highway abutment support walls near North Station by artist Sheila Levrant de Bretteville; an historical sculpture about the 18th and 19th century shipbuilding industry and a bust of shipbuilder Donald McKay in East Boston; blue interior lighting of the Zakim Bridge; and the Miller's River Littoral Way walkway and lighting under the loop ramps north of the Charles River.
Extensive landscape planting, as well as a maintenance program to support the plantings, was requested by many community members during public meetings.
Impact on traffic: Traffic exiting the Big Dig tunnel onto the Zakim Bridge.Before the Big Dig, the Central Artery carried not only north–south traffic but much east–west traffic, a major cause of its all-day congestion. The only direct access to Boston's Logan Airport from downtown was through the paired Callahan and Sumner tunnels under Boston Harbor. To reach these tunnels, traffic on the major highways from west of Boston—the Massachusetts Turnpike and Storrow Drive—traveled on portions of the Central Artery. Getting between the Central Artery and the tunnels also involved short stretches on city streets, increasing local congestion and causing backups on the highway.
The Big Dig untangled this co-mingled traffic. While only one net lane in each direction was added to the north–south I-93, several new east–west lanes became available. East–west traffic on the Massachusetts Turnpike/I-90 now proceeds directly through the Ted Williams Tunnel to Logan Airport and Route 1A beyond. Traffic between Storrow Drive and the Callahan and Sumner Tunnels still uses a short portion of I-93, but additional lanes and direct connections are provided for this traffic.
The result was a 62% reduction in vehicle hours of travel on I-93, the airport tunnels, and the connection from Storrow Drive, from an average 38,200 hours per day before construction (1994–1995) to 14,800 hours per day in 2004–2005, after the project was largely complete. The savings for travelers was estimated at $166 million annually in the same 2004–2005 time frame. Travel times on the Central Artery northbound during the afternoon peak hour were reduced 85.6%.
A 2008 Boston Globe report asserted that waiting time for the majority of trips actually increased as a result of demand induced by the increased road capacity. Because more drivers were opting to use the new roads, traffic bottlenecks were only pushed outward from the city, not reduced or eliminated (although some trips are now faster). The report states, "Ultimately, many motorists going to and from the suburbs at peak rush hours are spending more time stuck in traffic, not less." The Globe also asserted that their analysis provides a fuller picture of the traffic situation than a state-commissioned study done two years ago, in which the Big Dig was credited with helping to save at least $167 million a year by increasing economic productivity and decreasing motor vehicle operating costs. That study did not look at highways outside the Big Dig construction area and did not take into account new congestion elsewhere.
Problems: "Thousands of leaks"
As far back as 2001, Turnpike Authority officials and private contractors knew of thousands of leaks in the ceiling and wall fissures, extensive water damage to steel supports and fireproofing systems, and overloaded drainage systems. A $10 million contract, signed off as a cost overrun, was used to repair these leaks. Many of the leaks were a result of Modern Continental and other subcontractors failing to remove gravel and other debris before pouring concrete. This was not made publicly known to the media, but engineers at MIT (volunteer students and professors) performed several experiments and found serious problems with the tunnel.
On September 15, 2004, a major leak in the Interstate 93 north tunnel forced the closure of the tunnel while repairs were conducted. This also forced the Turnpike Authority to release information regarding its non-disclosure of prior leaks. A follow-up reported on "extensive" leaks that were more severe than state authorities had previously acknowledged. The report went on to state that the $14.6 billion tunnel system was riddled with more than 400 leaks. A Boston Globe report, however, countered that by stating there were nearly 700 leaks in a single 1,000-foot (300 m) section of tunnel beneath South Station. Turnpike officials also stated that the number of leaks being investigated was down from 1,000 to 500.
Substandard materials: Massachusetts State Police searched the offices of Aggregate Industries, the largest concrete supplier for the underground portions of the project, in June 2005. They seized evidence that Aggregate delivered concrete that did not meet contract specifications. In May 2006, six employees of the company were arrested and charged with conspiracy to defraud the United States. Immediately after the arrests, Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney announced he would return $3,900 in political contributions from employees of Aggregate Industries.
On March 19, 2006, the International Herald Tribune reported that Massachusetts Attorney General Tom Reilly planned to sue Bechtel/Parsons Brinckerhoff and other companies because of poor work on the project. Over 200 complaints have been filed by the state of Massachusetts as a result of leaks, cost overruns, quality concerns, and safety violations. In total, the state is seeking approximately $100 million from the contractors ($1 for every $141 spent).
Fatal ceiling collapse:
Main article: Big Dig ceiling collapse:
A fatal accident raised safety questions and closed part of the project for most of the summer of 2006. On July 10, 2006, a concrete ceiling panel weighing 3 tons (2722 kg) and measuring 20 by 40 ft (6.1 by 12.2 m) fell on a car traveling on the two-lane ramp connecting northbound I-93 to eastbound I-90 in South Boston, killing Milena Del Valle, who was a passenger, and injuring her husband, Angel Del Valle, who was driving. Immediately following the fatal ceiling collapse, Governor Mitt Romney ordered a stem-to-stern safety audit conducted by the Illinois engineering firm of Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates, Inc. to look for additional areas of risk. Said Romney: "We simply cannot live in a setting where a project of this scale has the potential of threatening human life, as has already been seen". The collapse and closure of the tunnel greatly snarled traffic in the city. The resulting traffic jams are cited as contributing to the death of another person, a heart attack victim who died en route to Boston Medical Center when his ambulance was caught in one such traffic jam two weeks after the collapse. On September 1, 2006, one eastbound lane of the connector tunnel was re-opened to traffic.
Following extensive inspections and repairs, Interstate 90 east-and westbound lanes reopened in early January 2007. The final piece of the road network, a high occupancy vehicle lane connecting Interstate 93 north to the Ted Williams Tunnel, reopened on June 1, 2007.
On July 10, 2007, after a lengthy investigation, the National Transportation Safety Board found that epoxy glue used to hold the roof in place during construction was not appropriate for long-term bonding. This was determined to be the cause of the roof collapse. The Power-Fast Epoxy Adhesive used in the installation was designed for short-term loading, such as wind or earthquake loads, not long-term loading, such as the weight of a panel.
Powers Fasteners, the makers of the adhesive, revised their product specifications on May 15, 2007 to increase the safety factor from 4 to 10 for all of their epoxy products intended for use in overhead applications. The safety factor on Power-Fast Epoxy was increased from 4 to 16. On December 24, 2007, the Del Valle family announced they had reached a settlement with Power Fasteners that would pay the family $6 million. In December 2008, Power Fasteners agreed to pay $16 million to the state to settle manslaughter charges.
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