The Big Dig project was not completed without controversy. It resulted in criminal arrests, as well as charges for escalating costs, leaks, poor execution and use of substandard materials (Wikipedia, 2008). In May 2006, six executives of Bechtel/Parsons Brinckerhoff, including its general manager, were arrested and charged with fraud.
Over 200 complaints were filed by the state of Massachusetts as a result of leaks, cost overruns, quality concerns, and safety violations. In July 2006, a Big Dig I-90 tunnel a large plate of concrete from the tunnel ceiling fell on a car, with one death, a woman crushed to death. A major investigation resulted, and closure of part of the Big Dig for a while.
Despite these controversial issues, the project was hailed as an engineering marvel, especially due to the challenge of building among subway tunnels and steam pipes while the city was alive above ground (Stern, 2003). To allow for 7.5 miles of underground roads, 16 million cubic yards of dirt -- enough to fill New England's football stadium 16 times -- was excavated.
The cost was also something to marvel about. The project cost more than double the Panama Canal's cost in today's dollars (Stern, 2003). National and state citizens paid much more than expected in tax dollars. Naturally, they expressed frustration as hidden costs continue to surface and statewide highway tolls continued to grow. The Massachusetts Turnpike Authority planned a $150 million lawsuit against the project management company.
The economic plan for the project called for improvement of the traffic flow in the Central City, better access to the underutilized South Boston Seaport area, and improved urban design and quality of life in areas that had been cut off or overshadowed by the elevated highway structure.
The excavation, tunneling, and road and bridge project is as wide as an interstate highway, and was built through unstable landfill, nine railroad tracks, glass and steel office towers, and many fragile, older brick buildings. Above all, it was built without destroying historical buildings or disrupting the city's business.
Although the project was marked by accidents, lawsuits and spending issues, the Big Dig has accomplished great things in the nearly two decades it took to build it.
The Big Dig project resulted in many major construction advances, including the use of "jacking boxes" to excavate beneath operating railroad tracks; the largest use of slurry construction techniques in North America; and fabricating, in a huge casting basin, six concrete tunnel sections.
According to the a report from the Economic Development Research Group for the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority (2006), the project results were good, despite the problems associated with the development and construction. Ttraffic volume and speed measurements on the interstate highways and tunnels show that overall traffic flow improved 62%, in comparison to pre-project (1995) levels, when measured by the reduction in vehicle-hours of travel. The travel time and vehicle operating costs savings on the highway routes currently amount to $167 million per year.
Additionally, the urban landscape improvements, including 315 acres of new park and landscaped areas, led to new residential development prominently featuring proximity and views of the parks and open spaces, according to the Economic Development Research Group for the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority (2006).
Big Dig projects resulted in commitments of over $7 billion in private investment, including 7700 housing units, 10 million sq. ft. Of commercial space and 2600 hotel rooms, supporting 43,000 more jobs in the city. The study concludes that it will take years before the full impact of the project on travelers, access and the economy will be fully measurable, but the results to date are very positive.
Big Dig's red ink engulfs state, Boston Globe, July 17, 2008
Curtin, Daniel. Witter, Jonathan. (2005). Windfalls, Wipeouts, Givings, and Takings in Dramatic Redevelopment Projects.
Boston College Environmental Affairs Law Review.
Economic Development Research Group for the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority. (2006). Economic and Transportation Impacts of the Central Artery/Tunnel in Boston. Retrieved from the Internet at http://www.edrgroup.com/library/highways-roads/economic-impact-central-arterytunnel.html.
LeBlanc, Steve (December, 2007). On December 31, it's Official: Boston's Big Dig Will Be Done," the Washington Post.
Sigmund, Pete. (2007). Triumph, Tragedy Mark Boston's Big Dig Project Triumph, Tragedy Mark Boston's Big Dig Project. ConstructionEquipmentGuide.com. Retrieved from the Internet at http://www.constructionequipmentguide.com/story.asp?story=8751&headline=Triumph,%20Tragedy%20Mark%20Boston%E2%80%99s%20Big%20Dig%20Project.