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InterviewsFred Salvucci


Great Projects: The Building of America

INT: Talk about how the Big Dig was actually two projects and how they came together.

FS: Well, really the Big Dig, as it's called, is really composed of two major elements that started out as different projects. One element is the depression of are elevated Central Artery, I-93, and that's the idea that -- that Bill Reynolds came to me with and we jointly went to Altshuler about. It will, basically, when it's done, eliminate this highway that divides the city from its own waterfront and at the same time substantially increase the capacity of the highway, 'cause once it's underground, you can widen it somewhat and, in particular, at its key bottlenecks, you can effectively double the capacity of the roadway. So that's the depressed artery part of it.

The tunnel part of it, so called, is the extension of Interstate 90 across Boston Harbor to Logan Airport. Interstate 90 comes all the way from Seattle east to Boston and now ends at I-93 in back of South Station. The idea of the tunnel as it's now being built is to continue under the Fort Point Channel past South Station under what used to be basically a railroad yard complex in South Boston and then across, under Boston Harbor, coming up at Logan Airport with a little connector beyond it to tie into Route 1.

The tunnel had a different history. It had initially been proposed in the '60s and at that time it was proposed to be in the Fort Point Channel, essentially going through the location of the Boston Tea Party and going through the East Boston community on the other side of the harbor in order to access Logan Airport. So there was major controversy. The reason that this Boston community was part of the anti-highway coalition was because that element of the highway was going to basically cut East Boston in half and be very disruptive. And the historic impact on the Boston end, disrupting the site of the Boston Tea Party, had not yet attracted attention, but anybody who understood federal law would have to realize that that was not gonna happen. In addition to that, the original location of the tunnel in the Fort Point Channel would have disrupted the cooling water supply for the Gillette Company, which is the largest manufacturer in Boston. So the original tunnel idea had many problems with it.

What is getting built is substantially different in that it is located about a half a mile to the east, all underground, and in areas that were formerly basically railroad areas. So it's basically going to enhance the developability of that land. It'll be environmentally compatible because it's below ground, and it, which had been a very controversial item in this relocated location, has been very strong and very popular ever since. The ironic thing is that this location idea also came from Bill Reynolds, the same fella who had the idea about depressing the artery. I mean he's a very creative fellow and really the two central elements of the Big Dig--putting I-93 underground and the relocation of I-90 under and to the east of its original conceived location--are both Bill Reynolds' ideas and in both cases it made all the difference between something that was horrible and eventually something that's going to be extremely nice for the city as well as a good transportation boost.

INT: Now the idea to merge them was your idea?

FS: Yeah. Well, what happened is, generally speaking, the environmentalists and the community activists tended to like depressing the artery because the elevated artery was so ugly and putting it underground was very attractive -- and that was something that the anti-highway people would make an exception for and say, "Well, this one's really different and we're for it."

The additional tunnel over to the airport was more complicated for the residential communities because they also were very concerned with airport expansion and there was a feeling that even if the highway itself didn't destroy the community because it was not relocated into the airport, that it still gave more access to the airport and Logan Airport might, therefore, grow and threaten the community in a different way.

So the tunnel -- the I-90 portion of the project continued to be somewhat controversial with the community and the environmental groups. For the business community it was the opposite. The business community wanted the additional access over to the airport and were nervous about the potential disruption of depressing the artery. So the two elements were being treated as alternatives and there was sort of an argument about which was more important. And around 1982, and precisely when Bill Reynolds came to me with the better location for the tunnel, getting out of the Fort Point Channel and lessening the impact on Gillette and the Boston Tea Party as well as the East Boston community impact, I looked at it and said, "This highway project, which has been a big negative, is now a really big positive. And here we are with Boston doing what it loves to do, which is fight itself about two different highways. The fact is we're entitled to the funding for both of them. One is I-93, the other is I-90 ...

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