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Nation's costliest highway job is wrapping up.

Byline: Steve LeBlanc

BOSTON - When the clock runs out on 2007, Boston will quietly mark the end of one of the most tumultuous eras in the city's history: The Big Dig Big Dig or The Big Dig may refer to:
  • Big Dig (Boston, Massachusetts)
  • Big Dig (Regina, Saskatchewan)
  • Big Dig (Liverpool)
  • The Erie Canal, while it was being constructed. Also sometimes called Clinton's Big Dig, after Governor DeWitt Clinton.
, the nation's most complex and costliest highway project, will officially come to an end.

Don't expect any champagne toasts.

After a history marked by engineering triumphs, leaks in tunnels, epic traffic jams, last year's death of a motorist crushed by falling concrete panels and a price tag that soared from $2.6 billion to a staggering $14.8 billion, there's little appetite for celebration.

Civil and criminal cases stemming from the July 2006 tunnel ceiling collapse continue, though on Monday the family of Milena Del Valle announced a $6 million settlement with Powers Fasteners, the company that manufactured the epoxy blamed by investigators for the accident. Lawsuits are pending against other Big Dig contractors, and Powers Fasteners still faces a manslaughter indictment.

Officially, Monday marks the end of the joint venture that teamed megaproject contractor Bechtel/Parsons Brinckerhoff with the Massachusetts Turnpike The Massachusetts Turnpike (commonly shortened to the MassPike or The Pike) is the easternmost 138-mile (222 km) stretch of Interstate 90. The Turnpike begins at the western border Massachusetts in West Stockbridge connecting with the Berkshire Connector portion of  Authority to build the dizzying array of underground highways, bridges, ramps and a new tunnel under Boston Harbor - all while the city remained open for business.

The project was so complex it's been likened to performing open heart surgery on a patient while the patient is wide awake.

Some didn't know if they'd live to see it end.

Enza Merola had a front row seat on the Big Dig from the front window of her pastry shop - stacked neatly with tiramisu tir·a·mi·su  
A dessert of cake infused with a liquid such as coffee or rum, layered with a rich cheese filling, and topped with grated chocolate.
, sfogliatelle

and brightly colored Italian cookies - in Boston's North End.

During the toughest days of the project, the facade of Marie's Pastry Shop, named after her sister, was obscured from view. The only way customers could find the front door was along a treacherous path through heavy construction.

"For a while we thought we weren't going to make it," Merola said. "But you know, we hung in there."

The Central Artery/Third Harbor Tunnel Harbor Tunnel has the following meanings:
  • Baltimore Harbor Tunnel and the Harbor Tunnel Thruway that feeds it
  • Cross Harbor Rail Tunnel in New York Harbor
  • Third Harbor Tunnel in Boston Harbor
 Project - as the Big Dig is officially known - has its roots in the construction of the hulking hulk·ing   also hulk·y
Unwieldy or bulky; massive.


big and ungainly

Adj. 1.
 1950s-era elevated Central Artery The Central Artery, officially the John F. Fitzgerald Expressway, is a section of freeway in downtown Boston, Massachusetts, designated as Interstate 93, U.S. Route 1 and Route 3.  that cut a swath through the center of Boston, lopping lop 1  
tr.v. lopped, lop·ping, lops
1. To cut off (a part), especially from a tree or shrub: lopped off the dead branches.

 off the waterfront from downtown and casting a shadow over some of the city's oldest neighborhoods.

Almost as soon as the ribbon was cut on the elevated highway in 1959, many were already wishing it away.

One was Frederick P. Salvucci Frederick Peter Salvucci is a civil engineer specializing in transportation, in particular infrastructure, urban transportation, public transportation and institutional development in decision-making. , a city kid for whom the demolition of the old Central Artery became a lifelong quest.

"It was always a beautiful city, but it had this ugly scar through it," said Salvucci, state transportation secretary during the project's planning stages.

Rather than build a new elevated highway, Salvucci and others pushed a far more radical solution - burying it.

Easier said than done.

Those who built the Big Dig would have to undertake the massive highway project in the cramped confines of Boston's narrow, winding streets, some dating to pre-Colonial days.

Of all the project's Rubik's Cube-like engineering challenges, none was more daunting daunt  
tr.v. daunt·ed, daunt·ing, daunts
To abate the courage of; discourage. See Synonyms at dismay.

[Middle English daunten, from Old French danter, from Latin
 than the first - how to build a wider tunnel directly underneath a narrower existing elevated highway while preventing the overhead highway from collapsing.

To solve the problem, engineers created horizontal braces as wide as the new tunnel, then cut away the elevated highway's original metal struts and gently lowered them onto the braces - even as cars crawled along overhead, their drivers oblivious to the work below.

It was

just one of what would be referred to as the Big Dig's "engineering marvels."

The Big Dig's long history is also littered with wrong turns - some unavoidable, others self-inflicted.

One of the biggest occurred in 2004 when water started pouring through a wall of the recently opened Interstate 93 tunnel under downtown Boston. An investigation found the leak was caused by the failure to clear debris that became caught in the concrete in the wall during construction. Hundreds of smaller drips, most near the ceiling, also were found.

Some delays were unrelated to construction.

The Leonard P. Zakim Leonard P. "Lenny" Zakim (1953 - December 2, 1999) was an American religious and civil rights leader in Boston. Zakim died in 1999 after a 5-year battle with bone-marrow cancer.  Bunker Hill Bunker Hill

“Don’t shoot until you see the whites of their eyes”; American Revolutionary battle (1775). [Am. Hist.: Worth, 22]

See : Battle
 Bridge - the project's signature element - went through dozens of revisions as designers labored to come up with the most practical and elegant way to cross the Charles River Charles River

River, eastern Massachusetts, U.S. The longest river wholly in the state, it flows into Boston Bay after a course of about 80 mi (130 km). Navigable for about 7 mi (11 km), its estuary separates the cities of Boston and Cambridge.

The project's darkest day came near the end of construction in 2006 when suspended concrete ceiling panels in a tunnel leading to Logan International Airport For the Logan airport in Billings, Montana, see .
Logan International Airport (IATA: BOS, ICAO: KBOS, FAA LID: BOS) in the East Boston neighborhood of Boston, Massachusetts, United States (and partly in the Town of Winthrop, Massachusetts), is one
 collapsed, crushing a car and killing Del Valle, 39, a passenger in the vehicle driven by her husband.

The tunnel was shut down for months as each of the remaining panels was inspected and a new fastening system installed. A federal investigation blamed the use of the wrong kind of epoxy and the Massachusetts attorney general The Massachusetts Attorney General is an executive officer of the Massachusetts Government. The current Attorney General is Martha Coakley.

The Attorney General is the chief law enforcement officer and lawyer for Massachusetts.
 indicted INDICTED, practice. When a man is accused by a bill of indictment preferred by a grand jury, he is said to be indicted.  the epoxy manufacturer.

Four workers also were killed working on the project. During peak construction, more than 5,000 workers labored daily on the project.

For Salvucci, who warns gridlock Gridlock

A government, business or institution's inability to function at a normal level due either to complex or conflicting procedures within the administrative framework or to impending change in the business.
 could soon return without a major commitment to public transportation, the Big Dig - for all its whiz-bang engineering - was always second to the city itself.

"The Big Dig is not a highway with an incidental city adjacent to it. It is a living city that happens to have some major highway infrastructure within it and that highway infrastructure had to be rebuilt," he said. "This was not elective surgery elective surgery Surgery Any operation that can be performed with advanced planning–eg, cholecystectomy, hernia repair, colonic resection, coronary artery bypass . It had to be done."

By the numbers

Figures associated with Boston's Big Dig highway project:

Original cost estimate: $2.6 billion

Current cost estimate: $14.798 billion

Length of project: 7.5 miles, about half in tunnels

Amount of dirt removed: 16 million cubic yards

Number of workers at peak construction: 5,000

Number of workers killed: 4

Number of lanes on the old elevated highway: 6

Number of lanes on the new highway system: 8 to 10

Number of historic artifacts artifacts

see specimen artifacts.
 excavated from the Big Dig's path: 200,000

Weight of the project's final environmental impact report: 44 pounds

Number of leaks discovered in roof-wall joints in 2004: 2,000 to 3,000

Number of cars using the old elevated highway when it opened in 1959: 75,000 per day

Number of cars expected to use the new underground highway by 2010: 245,000 per day

Average trip through the center of Boston on the old Central Artery: 19.5 minutes

Average trip through the center of Boston using the Big Dig: 2.8 minutes.

Sources: Massachusetts Turnpike Authority, Associated Press Associated Press: see news agency.
Associated Press (AP)

Cooperative news agency, the oldest and largest in the U.S. and long the largest in the world.
 news reports

Important dates in history of Boston's Big Dig

Some important dates in the history of Boston's Big Dig highway project:

1982 - Original estimate for the project pegged at $2.6 billion.

1987 - Congress approves initial federal funding.

1991 - Construction begins on Ted Williams Tunnel The Ted Williams Tunnel (planned as the Third Harbor Tunnel, the Sumner and Callahan Tunnels being the first two) is the tunnel connecting South Boston with Boston's Logan International Airport.  beneath Boston Harbor.

1995 - Ted Williams Tunnel under Boston Harbor to Logan Airport opens.

1998 - Cost estimate jumps to $10.8 billion.

1999 - Big Dig Chief James J. Kerasiotes step down for failing to disclose cost overruns.

2002 - Leonard P. Zakim Bunker Hill Bridge over the Charles River is completed.

2003 - I-90 connector tunnel and the northbound and southbound lanes of I-93 tunnel open.

2004 - Leak sends water pouring into I-93 tunnel, highlighting ongoing leak problems.

2005 - Investigators find 169 defective panels in I-93 tunnel, most needing minor repairs;

May 2006 - Six men who worked for the Big Dig's largest concrete supplier are arrested on charges they falsified records to hide the inferior quality of concrete.

June - Main Big Dig tunnel dedicated to late House Speaker Thomas P. "Tip" O'Neill Jr.

July 10 - A woman is crushed to death by falling concrete ceiling panels in connector tunnel leading to Ted Williams Tunnel, sparking criminal investigations.

Aug. 5 - Big Dig Chief Matthew J. Amorello Matthew J. Amorello (March 15, 1958–) is a former chairman of the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority who presided over the Big Dig from 2002-2006. As such, he has been blamed by many for its perceived shortcomings.  forced out in wake of ceiling panel collapse.

Aug. 8, 2007 - Epoxy supplier indicted in connection with ceiling panel collapse.

Dec. 24 - Family of Milena Del Valle announces $6 million settlement with the epoxy supplier for her death.

Dec. 31 - Big Dig comes to an end as an active construction project.

Source: Massachusetts Turnpike Authority and Associated Press news reports



CUTLINE: (1) A portion of the elevated Central Artery, also known as Interstate 93, is shown being dismantled. (2) Vehicles enter a portion of the Big Dig Central Artery Tunnel that connects the Massachusetts Turnpike with Logan International Airport.

PHOTOG pho·tog  
n. Informal
A person who takes photographs, especially as a profession; a photographer.
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Title Annotation:NEW ENGLAND
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Dec 26, 2007
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