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About the SeriesThe Big Dig


 The Big Dig

Program Four: 'The Big Dig'

A New Way of Engineering

In the post World War II years, urban highways divided neighborhoods; nothing stood in the way of their construction. In Boston, the Central Artery cut through downtown Boston and was so disputed that it was never fully completed. Boston was left with an ugly green monster, an elevated highway in the heart of its historic and business districts. By the 1970s, city planners wanted to tear it down and build an underground road, but the existing highway was so vital to the city's transportation that closing it down for any length of time was unfeasible.

The solution to this dilemma became known as the Big Dig. A local engineer named Fred Salvucci, whose own grandmother had been displaced by an earlier highway, championed a complex plan that resulted in a transportation renaissance in Boston and a renewal of much of the city's infrastructure. Engineers liken its construction and design innovations to those required by the Panama Canal. It required engineers to build a new road underground while the old highway functioned above it. Salvucci vowed that past mistakes would not be repeated. Community interests would be accommodated; no one would lose his home. Billions were spent on mitigating a myriad of concerns. The Big Dig's cost will approach $20 billion before its completion.

Is the Big Dig the new way engineering projects must be planned in the 21st century? Its advocates say it is not too expensive for the benefits the city will receive. Will other cities adopt the Boston model? Can our nation pay for Big Digs in other cities? Can it afford not to?

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Photo Credit: Central Artery/Tunnel Project