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Boston I-90 opens
January 9, 2003 6:28 AM   Subscribe

Boston thanks the rest of the USA for their $14 billion roadway system of about 8 miles. The new extension of I-90 opens at the end of the month making the longest Interstate highway a few miles longer. The I-90 section alone cost $6.5 Billion. The entire USA is paying for this project because it is federally funded. Are projects like these necessary urban construction of the future? or is it just a black hole of $? Traffic in Boston will improve, but many think the cost was too high.
posted by LinemanBear (64 comments total)

 
The article says it cost $6.5 billion? Anyway according to this report from the Washington State Dept of Transportation gives costs of highway building and gives the maximum cost at $8.5 million (with an average of $2.3 million) per mile of highway. Why it costs Boston nearly $1 billion per mile is beyond me?
posted by PenDevil at 6:43 AM on January 9, 2003


The entire cost of the Big Dig is $14 Billion (I-93 and I-90)... the I-90 section is just $6.5 Billion. Sorry for the confusion.

There were a lot of 'mitigation' costs included in the price tag. From beds with shock absorbers to fish startling devices when they were doing underwater blasting to other politically connected folk. I don't think that makes up the difference tho, but those contractors probably have really really nice homes.
posted by LinemanBear at 6:49 AM on January 9, 2003


This project was definitely poorly planned and excuted. But your question "are projects like these necessary urban construction of the future?" can be answered many ways.

Are poorly planned projects that overrun cost estimates necessary in the future? No. Do urban areas deserve massive Federal funding for infrastrucutre development--probably. I always think its interesting how much money is handed out to rural areas in the form of agricultural subsidies and other subsidies used to conduct business on Federal land, like mining and forestry, but how people get up in arms when there's even the slightest discussion of spending large amounts in urban areas--like what we are talking about (in general) or say money used to subsidize urban and interurban mass transit.
posted by pjgulliver at 6:49 AM on January 9, 2003


Having walked the tunnels, worked on the big dig, and lived in boston let me just say that the project (as the CA/T is known) is not just a highway project, it's a urban renewal program on a incredibly large scale. The original highway was put in during the 50's, did not consider environmental effects, was payed for by massachuesetts alone, tore the shore off the city, had about 3 times as much traffic flowing on it as it was designed for, and was falling apart and would have cost about $3 bil to replace.
A great deal of the cost incured was due to inflation, errors in original understanding of the ground environment (everything being polluted as hell), and delays.
While i'm not expecting traffic to suddenly disappear with the opening of northbound 93 this year (and southbound in a few years), the city itself will vastly change with the removal of city's other green monster. I look forward to the idea of walking from the charles to south station on a boulevard and not under a carbon monoxide and shadow corridor.
Then again i'm a civil engineer, so to me the big dig is an incredible piece of engineering. Just to give my personal favorite metaphor: it's like building a cabinet inside a closet while people are changing clothes.
posted by NGnerd at 6:50 AM on January 9, 2003


Why it costs Boston nearly $1 billion per mile is beyond me?

i imagine the reason has something to do with the fact that a) they're building a new suspension bridge as part of the project b) they're putting most of the new highway underground and c) they have to re-route most of the existing highway as they're working on each individual new section (essentially building each part twice)

as for it helping traffic in the future... i hope so - it's insane driving anywhere near the big dig right now. though, if you're not in a particular rush to get where you're going, it certainly makes driving in boston more interesting.
posted by soplerfo at 6:51 AM on January 9, 2003


As an aside, it's interesting that generally roadways, interstates and highways are federally funded, yet railways are mostly privately funding.
posted by four panels at 6:52 AM on January 9, 2003


Living in the Greater Boston area and dealing with the mess of the Big Dig on a regular basis -- not to mention living in the massive economic mess of the state's budget crisis (like a lot of other folks in a lot of other states) -- I definitely feel like that $14 billion could have been better spent. The I-90/I-93 project has its benefits, I'm sure, but that's a lot of money to (essentially) improve Boston's view out to the harbor and create more real estate. (Which is, I guess, theoretically supposed to just be park space, but which I think will probably just give way to more tall, icky buildings, thereby negating the benefit of tearing down the overpasses to improve the look of the city.)

$14 billion of state & federal money. Think of all the ways we could spend that. The obvious, and immediately connected response would be that we could've spent that on improving other areas of Boston's transit infrastructure -- like mass transit options or finally making the Mass Pike toll-free (as it was intended to be once the Pike was paid off, which is was, years ago). Other ways we could be spending that money? Schools, human services, on and on and on -- lots of stuff that's already lost funding, and will lose more, in the budget crisis cuts.
posted by dryad at 6:55 AM on January 9, 2003


>it's insane driving anywhere near the big dig right now. though, if you're not in a particular rush to get where you're going,

Amen to that. I generally avoid it at all costs, which is usually a dollar for the T.
posted by McBain at 6:55 AM on January 9, 2003


The obvious, and immediately connected response would be that we could've spent that on improving other areas of Boston's transit infrastructure

How long before the Green Line gets redone? I'm pretty tired of packing into the little trains like sardines or needing to go anywhere on a night the Red Sox are playing.
posted by McBain at 6:58 AM on January 9, 2003


For $14 Billion, Boston would have had one of the best public transportation systems in the world if that money were spent on transit.
posted by LinemanBear at 7:00 AM on January 9, 2003


I've never seen anyone that is complaining about cost overruns actually point to a "$500 toilet seat" type smoking gun. In my mind, Boston has been putting off doing something about nearly 400 years of half-ass civil planning, and the bill came due. Talk to a civil engineering or civil architecture student. Most of them will have studied Boston's growth as a worst case scenario.
posted by machaus at 7:02 AM on January 9, 2003


As NGnerd says, it is an incredible piece of engineering (freezing mud in order to build a tunnel through it, stuff like that), and the urban renewal benefits will be huge.

But. The general experience with contstruction of new highways around the country is, practically as soon as they're opened up, they're carrying traffic at or beyond capacity. It is a build-it-and-they-will-come phenomenon, especially in metro areas.

The SE Expressway has for decades been known as "the world's largest parking lot". It will be interested to see how soon the new road gains the same title.
posted by beagle at 7:13 AM on January 9, 2003


The Big Dig is an amazing accomplishment: NGnerd's anaolgy does not even begin to express what tricks are involved to keep most traffic in place while new roadways are being built underfoot.

While it is easier to focus on I-93 going underground, I think the turnpike extension is the more compelling piece of the project -- I am not certain what it is intended to mean for the Callahan and Sumner tunnels but those two tubes must be, by far, the most congested lengths of roadway in America.

I will miss the elevated roadbed of I-93. I like the way it allows a second level of interaction with downtown. My two proposals for a solution to I-93 were to either a) take it out entriely and say a big "fuck you" to anyone who thought driving through Boston was a good idea or b) rebuilding an elevated artery that was even taller -- accentuating the amusement park feel of it all.

Was this project necessary for all of America? Yes, because someone had to correct what we fucked up long ago in Boston. We will be paying for those urban planning sins all across the US and the world for years to come.
posted by Dick Paris at 7:19 AM on January 9, 2003


Though I've only been looking for about 15 minutes or so, it's difficult to locate any press that points to a solid "smoking gun", such as the one that machaus would like to see. And having walked (and driven, ack) through the cow path warrens that make up the better portion of downtown Boston's streets, I would agree (without knowing much about urban planning), that the city developed in a less-than-optimal way when it comes to civil planning.

However, here are a few links regarding the cost overruns:

* This one and this one are both from the House Committee on Appropriations, and point to "incomplete or inaccurate data provided to federal auditors by Massachusetts state highway officials to further hide the true costs of the project. "
* This one and this one are from Insight Magazine, "the sister newsweekly of the Washington Times" (as Newsweek is the sister publication of the Washington Post). Both parts of the article point to what would appear to be deliberate padding on the part of politically connected contractors to up the price of the project.

It looks like it might be hard to find a "smoking gun" because of the stalling, information hiding, and general dishonesty on the part of the state of Massachusetts and (some of) the contractors involved.
posted by dryad at 7:29 AM on January 9, 2003


actually point to a "$500 toilet seat"

i'd point directly to the Big Dig contractor who was stealing steel from the project to the tune of millions of dollars a year, and was not discovered until the 300% cost overruns were initially "discovered" by the Cellucci administration. also to the construction crews standing around tightening bolts in the middle of the night on *New Year's Eve* this year, probably making triple-overtime-hazard-holiday pay. but two examples of the "let's all sup from the public trough" mentality that has gripped this project for a decade. i think the Dig is necessary and even inspired: i love the Zakim Bridge, and the thought of more green space downtown. but the firehose of federal money enriched a lot of folks, from the construction guys who've had steady work for years and drive down from their tax shelters in New Hampshire every morning, to the army of engineers and "consultants" who all get their cut. i've actually cried in my car when stuck in surreal traffic jams at 1:00 AM in the South Station Tunnel when they decide to block off all the lanes but one for *no apparent reason,* so the sooner they get it done (yeah, that'll happen) the better. it's embarassing, the graft and mismanagement really undermine the necessity of it.
posted by serafinapekkala at 7:33 AM on January 9, 2003


I'm so sick of this crap. If you've ever been to Boston, you'd know that something had to be done to fix the horrible downtown traffic congestion. In the past, the solution would be simple: exclude the public from having any say, then run a project like a military excercise and bulldoze down thirty-six blocks of historic neighborhoods, cut your city in two, and completely disregard the catastrophic consequences of destroying small businesses and displacing tens of thousands of people.

But see, in this enlightened age and more civilized part of the country we have this thing called history -- some of that stuff you read about in text books can actually still be visited today because they weren't torn down for hyperspace bypasses and the like.

The Big Dig is the modern age's answer to the problem of cars. We can't just tear down history and build bigger, uglier highways. But downtown traffic jams already last ten hours a day, and at current projections will be 18 hours a day in the next ten years. That means people not getting to work on time, people not shopping, people not visiting Boston because it's hell to drive in. That means lost revenue.

The solution, to put it underground, has a number of fantastic side-effects. The Big Dig is the most technically challenging road engineering feat ever attempted. The only thing bigger in the world is the Three Gorges Dam in China. Several innovative practices had to be invented just to make it work, but now these innovations can be used on any future construction project. Traffic congestion is allieviated. And all that nasty smog that would normally be choking you on a nice summer day (ever been to LA or New York?) is underground, filtered by enormous air exchangers, then sent back up into the world clean. In ten years Boston will have some of the best air quality of any major U.S. city.

And to put the cost in some perspective, here's a few other things "Your Tax Dollars" are used for that you may never even get a chance to see or utilize:

1. Denver International Airport, estimated cost to build: $1.5 billion; final cost: $6 billion.

2. Los Angeles light-rail system, estimated cost: $200 million; final cost: $900 million.

3. The Panama Canal, adjusted for inflation, cost $400 billion in 1990 dollars, and 5,609 workers lost their lives.

4. B-2 bomber cost per unit: $1.3 billion

The fact is, Boston is a city of huge historical and economic influence. If you want that history preserved and accessible for vacationing, it's going to cost you. Boston is also an enormous intellectual center with more than 35 colleges and universities in the city alone. You might not have a stake in the town, but your kids might if they go to school here.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 7:42 AM on January 9, 2003


probably take place Jan. 20, but Big Dig officials won't say just when for now. ''The reason we're not giving you an exact time on the opening on the 20th is so we don't have everyone queued up on the turnpike

No, you're just have hundreds of 'road geeks' driving around Boston in circles trying the exits every half an hour.
posted by wackybrit at 7:51 AM on January 9, 2003


As a resident of Boston Proper, I don't want the Big Dig to ever be completed. I like that we have a street system that's both inherently confusing and always changing-- mostly because it frustrates people who don't need to drive into the city in the first place.

That said, it seems to me that the people who are driving the roads are the ones who should pay for it, both through gas taxes and higher tolls. Driving in areas where cars aren't needed should be both expensive and inconvenient.
posted by Mayor Curley at 7:52 AM on January 9, 2003


If Boston gets 12 billion, then I want 12 billion to redo Philadelphia's transit system... and a pony.
posted by password at 7:52 AM on January 9, 2003


Mayor Curley: I second your first motion. As a resident of the North End, I dread the day when the expressway comes down and the influx of assholes destroy what is probably the single coolest neighborhood in the United States.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 7:58 AM on January 9, 2003


As an aside, it's interesting that generally roadways, interstates and highways are federally funded, yet railways are mostly privately funding. - posted by four panels at 6:52 AM PST on January 9 Four Panels - Damn straight. that's because trains ARE GODDAMNED SOCIALIST INSTITUTIONS, whereas highways encourage the sort of self interested, individualistic, atomized, aggressive (and even enraged) tendencies which we need to fuel our ferociously competitive American style of capitalism - without all of this frustruation, anger, alienation, and so on, Americans might be a little more like Europeans with their self-satisfied, decadent obsession about "quality of life" issues such as "free time" (that's the Devil's playground, you know) and "Family life" and "community", not to mention "vacations". Without hellish daily commutes, Americans would grow soft.

Here's the backdrop. Will the "Big Dig" improve traffic congestion on the major highways leading into Boston? NO IT WILL NOT. The Big Dig improves local traffic flow in Boston.

The benefits of this 14 billion (plus) project?

1) It removes the hideous raised "Central Artery" (built originally, as was the "Big Dig" to solve all of Boston's traffic woes "forever") and opens up a lot of very valuable real estate. Some of this, to Boston's credit, is going to a park, I understand.

2) Improved traffic flow in Boston (does next to nothing for the massive daily commuter congestion through Eastern Mass.)

3) I guess there are no other benefits...........oh YEAH! PORK - The Big Dig pumps federal spending into an already more affluent than average region. This came about through former Democratic Speaker of the House, Tip O'Neill, who - as his parting gift to Massuchussetts, called in his political chits to push through "The Big Dig" - which was widely regarded at the time as the last massive (billion dollar) federally funded transportation project because of the rising tide of the "Reagan Revolution" and the growing ideologically driven belief that the US government should get out of funding transportation (ESPECIALLY trains, but also highways, to an extent).

So there you have it - A wealthier, prettier Boston with a very nice park. Same old hellish commute, more or less, for most in Massachussetts. Same old underfunded public transit system.

There's another looming, potential massive public works project for Boston - DIKES: see this NASA Executive Summary for the ongoing WAIS program
posted by troutfishing at 8:03 AM on January 9, 2003


When deciding where to move after college 7 years ago, I picked Boston over 5 other cities, largely because of its history. Civil_Disobedient's post is about as close to my thoughts on the Big Dig as anything I could have written myself. And 14 Billion divided over the duration of this project (5 years? 10 years?) is a drop in the water of what can be deemed "unnecessary" government spending. But that's a whole different discussion...
posted by ben-o at 8:14 AM on January 9, 2003


For historical nuts, the 19th century equivalent in Massachusetts was the Hoosac Tunnel. Cost $21,000,000, worked on from 1851 to 1875, around 200 lives lost in construction. It damn near bankrupted the state of Mass. at one time. But it pioneered a lot of tunnel-building technology used on the Rocky Mountain portions of the transcon railroad, and it is still in heavy use as the longest transportation tunnel in NA east of the Rockies.
posted by beagle at 8:31 AM on January 9, 2003


The Big Dig is the modern age's answer to the problem of cars.

I thought that was Amsterdam.
posted by Dick Paris at 8:34 AM on January 9, 2003


More on the Big Dig here

The Big Dig is the modern age's answer to the problem of cars.

I thought that was Amsterdam.


No, Amsterdam is the answer to the problem of getting busted for smoking a joint
posted by matteo at 8:40 AM on January 9, 2003


I've only visited Boston twice, but I love it. The first time I visited in '98, I walked the entire Freedom Trail and encountered the big dig on foot. Then last year when I went back, I was very pleased to see the new bridge, and the changes in the last few years. I love the concept of the Big Dig, and I think it'll do wonders for Boston if as originally planned parks replace the elevated highway.
posted by riffola at 8:46 AM on January 9, 2003


As a resident of the North End, I dread the day when the expressway comes down and the influx of assholes destroy what is probably the single coolest neighborhood in the United States

I agree totally. The North End is a great place. My sister lived there during her under grad and graduate degree years at Northeastern.
Going in to see her was always fun (live in central MA), being from New York and now living where I do, the North End is my mecca for good/real pizza and Italian food.

As for the L Zachim bridge, should have been named the Bunker Hill Bridge as it was supposed to have been. Or the Constitution Bridge would have been good too, as the USS Constitution is right next to it.

All in all, the Big Dig has been mismanaged, taken advantage of, anally raped by unions and politicians alike, but, is necessary, and one day when it is complete, Metaregion will be able to play on the grass eating good pizza from the North end, until the empire of chaosium shows up that is.... MUWHAHAHAHAHAHA

Sidebar: I am thinking of abandoning my Empire on the Nationstates site, as their site is just not able to deal with the load it is under. The What ever dominion of Cracker Barrel can have it all for 3 blocks of cheese, and some hard salami.
posted by a3matrix at 8:47 AM on January 9, 2003


Civil_Disobediant - Certainly the "Big Dig" has lots of benefits. It should, with a 14 billion price tag!

Here's an alternative, hypothetical proposal for a FAR MORE beneficial approach to spending 14 billion on transportation.

1) Lay an ASPHALT highway underneath the current raised Central Artery (cheap) and then pull the raised highway down (removes eyesore). Build short underground tunnels under highway so people can reach the North End of Boston

2) Spend 7 billion on a SUBSIDY PROGRAM FOR HYBRID CARS - say $7,000 per hybrid car (SUV's excluded).

3) Impose gradually rising fines on vehicles coming into Boston based on 1) emissions and 2) number of passengers per vehicle.

4) Use this revenue stream, as well as the remainder of the other 7 billiion which you haven't spent on the street level highway (at least 4 billion, I'd guess) to start COMMUTER BUS LINES which - along with the 3 passenger per car (2 for hybrids) vehicles will get dedicated HOV lanes.

The commuter bus lines in the outer suburbs will leave from existing metro line parking lots, to metro line lots close to Boston, where commuters can change to buses which go to targeted, dispersed, areas within Boston (cuts transition time - many commuters can dispense with Boston "T" altogether. )

For outgoing traffic/commuters, the system merely runs in the reverse.

BENEFITS

- dramatic cut in number of cars entering Boston
- Dramatically cleaner air
- Cuts congestion THROUGHOUT EASTERN MASS. and potentially serves as a national model for a phased transition to fewer, cleaner, more fuel efficient cars.
- jump starts "Hybrid" industry on a huge scale, puts money both in the hands of average citizens and, also, Detroit (provided that Detroit can manage to compete with Japanese automakers).
- Removes Central Artery eyesore, but maintains distinct, neighborhood quality of "North End"
- Improvement in commuter quality of life. Commuters have much more time on their hands. Workplace productivity likely rises.
-Slows Global Warming.


I talked to the Mass. transportation "Czar" back in around '84, when the "Big Dig" was in the very early planning stages (price tag $2-4 billion) about different - more enlightened - approaches to Boston's (and Eastern Mass') transportation problems. He told me (this, from a guy who did his PHD work in Venice, Italy, a city which had banned cars from the core city) - "We did study after study. The underground Central Artery was the only plan which worked." -- I now believe that this was a blatant lie, based on what I later learned about Tip O' Neill's role in securing a Federal commitment "Big Dig" funding. There wasn't much federal interest in giving billions to promote public transit systems (of any sort) in the mid 80's (There still isn't), so Tip O' Neill took what he could get, wrapped it up in a big ol' ribbon, and gave it to the city he loved - Boston.

In any case, the "Big Dig" is money better spent - in my opinion, than on any number of huge and probably useless defense contracts - such as the "Crusader" self propelled artillery unit (last price tag I heard, $10 billion) which was designed, before the end of the Cold War, to deter a massive Soviet tank attack through the Fulda Gap into Germany. Don Rumsfeld (a smart man) tried to cancel this boondoggle. He backed off when 9-11 made Congress, and the US public, amenable to huge defense spending increases.
posted by troutfishing at 8:48 AM on January 9, 2003


Once again to reiterate the point - which seems to get lost on this thread amidst the admiration of the engineers ("what a technological marvel!" - I'm sure it is, so were the Pyramids, another huge public works project) and the enraged cries of the "well, something had to be done" crowd:

The Big Dig will do very little for overall traffic congestion in Eastern Mass. It's great for Boston. And it's a damned shame that the $14 billion wasn't spent on a progressive solution which adressed both 1) Boston inner city congestion (it will make that worse, actually) 2) Eastern Mass. congestion. - this will get steadily worse until actually gridlock sets in. (for another solution, see my hypothetical proposal above).
posted by troutfishing at 9:05 AM on January 9, 2003


By the way, my "Modest Proposal" above can still be implemented. It is not antagonistic to the new Central Artery. Boston, and Mass. are strapped for cash right now, so it would need to be impemented gradually (say, over ten years, or so). We can start by TAXING ONE PERSON PER CAR VEHICLES COMING INTO BOSTON and using this money to start buying buses.
posted by troutfishing at 9:10 AM on January 9, 2003


My personal favorite successful highway project: the I-15 reconstruction in Utah. Only $1.5 billion, but it's a beaut!
posted by blue_beetle at 9:10 AM on January 9, 2003


PBS had a very interesting series on the "Big Dig" a bit ago. An impressive piece of engineering.
posted by rotifer at 9:16 AM on January 9, 2003


Troutfishing, all decent points, and you obviously have quite a bit of experience in this area. However, my issues:

The ground-level highway would defeat the purpose, as one main benefit of the big dig was to stop having a highway cut the waterfront off from the rest of Boston. That was the purpose for the tunnel. Yes, it's overpriced, but i think it's worthwhile to have a city that moves traffic through the city quickly without tearing a major gash through its center, as many other cities do. To those wondering about the Federal Funding, keep in mind that the 93 highway has a lot of cargo going through it on its way to NH and Maine, so one might as well get this flowing more smoothly. In that sense, it's certainly national infrastructure.

Next, the bus systems you suggest into the city would work great, but buses within the city never seem to work in a timely fashion... I think people would consider taking a commuter bus-to-a-bus more burdensome than a commuter bus-to-a-T. That's what the T needs to be fixed up for.

A few other construction pet peeves I think need to be taken care of: more "out of towner" parking at the immediate off-ramps to the city, similar to the Boston Common underground garage. Get rid of the Mass Pike tolls west of 95, but give them a hefty increase inside 95, and have increased rush-hour tolls for all highways into the city. Finally build that new runway at Logan Airport, or at least turn Hanscom Airfield into a functional airport (and screw those lexington blue bloods! :).

And while I'm fantasizing, I wouldn't mind a route from North Cambridge/Davis Square to Memorial Drive that doesn't require you to go through Harvard Square.
posted by deanc at 9:19 AM on January 9, 2003


troutfishing -- I like your ideas! My only beef would be a tax on one passenger vehicles coming into the city. Since I come into Boston from the west suburbs on the Mass Pike, I already pay about $3 (one way) when I need to drive into the city. It's cheaper for me to go to the nearest T station and ride in on the train, but not always practical (I sometimes need to transport items for work, or pick up someone with lots of luggage at Logan).

Getting to and from Logan to pick someone up is almost another matter altogether -- in addition to the Big Dig related traffic backups, I pay not only the $3 each way it takes me to get into and out of Boston on the Pike, but I also pay at least $3 in tunnel tolls. That's $9 (at least) that I spend just to drive my own car to the airport -- is that revenue flow being wisely used? (Answer, in brief: No. It's going into the economic black hole that is currently the Big Dig.)

I love pretty much every aspect of your proposal, though. I'm not necessarily opposed to paying more taxes (though, as anyone living in Mass. knows, we already pay a lot of taxes) or high gas taxes. But it seems to me that the taxes and tolls I already pay are being misspent. And I still feel that that $14 billion should have been spent on mass transit in the first place (as opposed to pushing single passenger car gridlock underground). But what do I know? I'm just a freedom hating socialist liberal. Or something.

(Though the Zachem bridge is indeed lovely.)
posted by dryad at 9:32 AM on January 9, 2003


14 billion to help traffic flow. Wow. Makes me wonder how much good that cash would have done in a transit system. Hell you could likely buy flying busses for that kinda money.
posted by holycola at 9:33 AM on January 9, 2003


I don't know if the Big Dig is a good idea or not, but this table seems to show that Massachusetts paid $14B in 2001 more than it got back in federal funding

Massachusetts
(figures in millions of dollars)
Taxes Paid 58,389
Spending Received 44,144
Surplus/Deficit -14,245

Looks to me like Massachusetts pays a net surplus to the feds equivalent to a Big Dig every year. The only difference appears to be it built something for itself instead of what it's usually used for, which apparently is covering Mississippi and Alabama's suckling at the teat of big government.
posted by dglynn at 10:00 AM on January 9, 2003


As for the L Zachim bridge, should have been named the Bunker Hill Bridge

I think my favorite thing about the Big Dig is that the name of the bridge. Now there's a great big beautiful bridge that will soon become a popular synecdoche for Boston (notice the new Patriots stadium logo) and the bridge is named for someone who stood for racial and ethnic and religious understanding. Boston could use that. They already have a Bunker Hill and a USS Constitution.

They could have called the bridge "Two Irish Guys Fighting" if they wanted to reflect on Boston's past. Thankfully they looked forward.
posted by yerfatma at 10:02 AM on January 9, 2003


Sure, the money thing is a big deal, but here's the bigger picture: my goal of driving the entire length of I-90 is now facing an enormous setback. See, I've done Madison, WI, to the current eastern terminus. All I need now is to drive from Madison, where I live, to Seattle, which I'd kind of like to do regardless of the I-90 goal. Except now there's a few extra miles about 20 hours away.

Those jerks.
posted by aaronetc at 10:04 AM on January 9, 2003


Dglynn - WOW!!!!! - I'll use this somewhere, to good effect...thanks.

Dryad - Wouldn't it balance out if you could get into the city faster and more pleasantly (most of the time) on busses and paid a little more when you had to drive in alone? I think penalizing the 'one car per person' commuters is crucial, the only good way to reduce congestion. I drive into Boston alone too! - but I don't think it's a good thing. And remember, if you could sometimes manage to carpool, you could also get into the city faster and cheaper in the HOV lanes, which brings up another benefit -- Mass. already has an (underfunded, underutilized) online ride sharing/ride matching service. It might be easier than you think to find people to carpool with, and there are other benefits: like trading off on driving, saving on gas and, best of all, making new friends.

I agree that the toll system in Mass. is hugely unfair. It makes no sense at all. Why not, for example, put tolls on route 93? - this revenue could go to - you guessed it - BUSSES

Also, I think that taxing one-person-per-car commuters could help to make an innovative bus line system revenue nuetral (no tax increase). Now that I think of it, cutting highway use cuts highway expenditures and also the need for expensive redesigns, widening, etc. So I think that something like my proposal above needn't cause tax increases. It might just shift spending to more productive areas. But this won't happen unless people start to clamour for such a plan.

Hey! maybe a website! Op-Ed pieces. Start a little buzz......these aren't really my ideas - I just repackaged them. There's a great example of cheap, efficient public transit in the (now famous in enviro circles) Brazilian city of Curitiba. Curitiba solved it's worst traffic problems on a TINY budget, building what is probably the most cost effective public transit in the world.

If Boston is such an "intellectual", "progressive", "enlightened" city, _________ (fill in the blank!)
posted by troutfishing at 10:04 AM on January 9, 2003


I wouldn't mind a route from North Cambridge/Davis Square to Memorial Drive that doesn't require you to go through Harvard Square.

Oh, that can already be done. I like to call it the Cambridge bob and weave.
posted by Dick Paris at 10:10 AM on January 9, 2003


it certainly makes driving in boston more interesting.

uh, 'cause it's SO BORING now? When traffic is moving in your fair city, it's really moving. Will never forget my first encounter with Masshole drivers. (My grandfather from Boston told me that the secret was to never make eye contact; once you acknowledge another driver's presence, you've automatically lost.)

and on preview...Tell me more about Curitiba and its approach,troutfishing. I'm intrigued.
posted by Vidiot at 10:11 AM on January 9, 2003


As an aside, it's interesting that generally roadways, interstates and highways are federally funded, yet railways are mostly privately funding.

Non. Railways in the US were created with giveaways on a gigantic scale -- 204,000 square miles of land as near as I can tell, or California and Kansas put together.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:21 AM on January 9, 2003


The new bridge could also be called the Bill Buckner Bridge....

Don't get the reference? In 1986 the Red Sox lost the World Series because Bill Bucker let a ball through his legs... sorta like the traffic going through the legs of the new bridge.
posted by LinemanBear at 10:22 AM on January 9, 2003


I'm with dglynn!
Exactly what I got on this thread to say. Thanks!

I also agree that some of our defense contractor pork boondoggles are a much more attractive target for spending cuts. And why don't we use the savings to support a living wage, pay our teachers, fire fighters, soldiers and police better? I'm a believer in investing in people.

Almost an aside but related, how about a nationwide passenger rail system? Five high speed tracks between cities and light rail for the cities and their metro area. Why must we continue to invest our wealth into automotive transportation? Perfect plan to create jobs and reduce dependency on foreign oil.

Time to stop riding with Osama! :-)
posted by nofundy at 10:36 AM on January 9, 2003


Did you notice that Virginia has the largest surplus of taxes? Could it be any coincidence that the Pentagon and other defence contractors are located in Virginia? or is it AOL? ;)
posted by LinemanBear at 10:40 AM on January 9, 2003


L Zachim bridge...Bunker Hill Bridge...Constitution Bridge

IMO, the "Zakim Bridge" just has a way cooler ring to it, *and* is a tribute to a man who tried to *build bridges* (get it?) between the infamously divided and insular communities in this town. speaking of same, Charlestown has plenty of monuments already, and they weren't "promised" anything, they just assumed their powerful influence on Beacon Hill would win out. when you think about it, why *should* it be the Bunker Hill Bridge? it doesn't go to Bunker Hill, the monument on Bunker Hill actually commemorates the battle of *Breed's* Hill, etc. OTOH, we could name it after Nomar, who lives in Charlestown, or maybe after the Tobin Bridge, also in Charlestown! :-P (/end intra-regional nonsensical rant)
posted by serafinapekkala at 10:44 AM on January 9, 2003


Dramatically cleaner air

troutfishing: with buses? what about the ill-fated Silver Line? just as the state realizes it's not a great idea to have diesel buses idling in inner city neighborhoods polluting the air and causing asthma, they replace the old elevated train system linking downtown with Dudley Square with...a dedicated bus lane. hmmmmmm....
posted by serafinapekkala at 10:48 AM on January 9, 2003


I wouldn't mind a route from North Cambridge/Davis Square to Memorial Drive that doesn't require you to go through Harvard Square.

oh deanc, this is your lucky day, i will now reveal to you (and, uh, everyone else reading this) my Secret Thoroughfare of Cambridge. i assume you mean you don't want to go through Harvard OR down Rt. 16/Alewife Brook Parkway to Mem Drive, which is hellishly trafficky too. i live right by the Tufts campus; i drove to Northeastern every day for 3 years and didn't go either way, baby!

*Take Walden Street, which begins at Mass Ave next to the KFC/Taco Bell (across from that big brick office building w/bike shop), all the way across Cambridge, over Concord Ave, to Huron Ave.
* Make a left then a quick right on Appleton. That dead-ends on Brattle St. after 3 blocks.
* Make a left on Brattle, then a right at Hawthorn. You cross over Mt. Auburn and are dumped directly onto Mem Drive in 2 blocks.

It's circuitous, but scenic and generally unclogged. Godspeed!
posted by serafinapekkala at 10:56 AM on January 9, 2003


New underground Central Artery or not (and sure, the new access to the waterfront is great!), congestion within Boston, and in Eastern Mass in general, will just keep getting worse and worse until we enact a strategy to reduce the number of cars on the road.

Deanc, re: "The ground-level highway would defeat the purpose, as one main benefit of the big dig was to stop having a highway cut the waterfront off from the rest of Boston." - my proposal was a hypothetical one, and showed what 14 billion could have been spent on (an innovative regional transportation plan) instead of spending it all to put an ugly highway underground. Sure, the waterfront is nice. But I, for one, think the regional transport problem is far, far uglier than the ugly (and due to soon be demolished) raised Central Artery. My proposal assumed 1) we don't have unlimited money for transportation projects, and 2) there are always tradeoffs. If I had the money, I would love to put my HOUSE underground! (It's an eyesore).

"Gee, Joe, that's a really nice, new speed rated tire there on your car! Ummm.....you know, the other three tires look like they're about to blow out...why'd you get just ONE speed rated tire?..why didn't you spend the money on FOUR cheap new tires?."

(Joe) "Sure, I could have bought four cheap new tires, but this one looks so good!"

I think you get my drift.

By the way, the reason buses cannot keep to schedules in cities is because of all the congestion! And when was the last time you could, as a commuter driving into Boston, EXPECT TO ARRIVE PREDICTABLY ON SCHEDULE? - Never. Why? The congestion
posted by troutfishing at 10:59 AM on January 9, 2003


Serafinapekkala - Diesel engine produce some of the nastiest forms of air pollution, sure, but there are many other fuels/energy sources buses can run on besides diesel - gasoline, hydrogen, propane, electricity, and on and on. There are now even high efficiency (low pollution) diesel engines.

Re: "they replace the old elevated train system linking downtown with Dudley Square with...a dedicated bus lane. hmmmmmm...." I agree with you (what I think your intended implication was): This is rascism (and/or classism), pure and simple.
posted by troutfishing at 11:06 AM on January 9, 2003


unfortunately the original plan for the big dig involved spending nearly as much on public transit as on the highway and doing away with parking in downtown (the idea being that if there's no parking there's a damn less incentive to drive there, really, it makes sense). However, as the prices increased for the highway system the budget was cut from increasing public transit (probably as the highway HAD to come down where as public transit was an added part).

In the end the highway had to come down (entropy is the civil engineer's best friend, it keeps us busy), so it was more a decision of to keep an eyesore or spend more and get a reinvigorated city. In the end i have a feeling replacing the highway would have cost at least half as much as the final big dig, but wouldnt' have done anything to the existing traffic (not that the tunnels will really solve the problem).
The funny thing to me is that the Zhakim bridge is probably the biggest pork barrel part of the project, consider that it's one of the SHORTEST and WIDEST cable stay bridges out there. The project needed a monument, and therefore 300 mil was added to create a fat short bridge (not to say i don't like it, just that it is beyond necessary). In the end though the majority of the big dig was made out of necessity, and not just to throw away money.

as for:
And while I'm fantasizing, I wouldn't mind a route from North Cambridge/Davis Square to Memorial Drive that doesn't require you to go through Harvard Square.

it's called 28, but really you should just use the T into town.
posted by NGnerd at 11:20 AM on January 9, 2003


Los Angeles light-rail system, estimated cost: $200 million; final cost: $900 million.

We have a light rail system?
posted by inpHilltr8r at 11:24 AM on January 9, 2003


NGnerd - Hmmm, interesting!
("unfortunately the original plan for the big dig involved spending nearly as much on public transit as on the highway and doing away with parking in downtown (the idea being that if there's no parking there's a damn less incentive to drive there, really, it makes sense). However, as the prices increased for the highway system the budget was cut from increasing public transit ")

Do you know that this nutshell history of yours on the Big Dig (thanks, by the way) tells a tale which is VERY CLOSE to what happened to the FIRST (raised) Central Artery project? - it was part of a larger, comprehensive transportation plan to "solve Boston's traffic problem for the foreseeable future" (ho ho) but there were cost overruns so they had to scale it way back. Meanwhile, auto traffic increased moe than expected. So, predictably.............

Here's a question I have that you might be able to answer - was the public transit component of the Big Dig financing State or Federal (or both, but which was more)?
posted by troutfishing at 11:29 AM on January 9, 2003


(My grandfather from Boston told me that the secret was to never make eye contact; once you acknowledge another driver's presence, you've automatically lost.)

That was a rule I learned in Italy. And I tend to agree with your sentiment, driving here is absurd. They don't call them Massholes for nothing folks.
I have been here for almost 3 years, and I still can't believe it. And I came here from Long Island, NY which has its share of wackiness on the roads as well.

Ok, I did not grow up on a desert island, did ok in school, know who Martin Luther King is etc..., but, I never heard of this Zachim fellow until I came here and they had the whole issue of naming the bridge. Is he a local guy known only here for his work?
posted by a3matrix at 12:03 PM on January 9, 2003


Did you notice that Virginia has the largest surplus of taxes?

Yeah, I noted that too. Speaking of suckling at the teat of big government.

Also: wow, California's rich. It outstrips everyone else by almost 100,000 million.
posted by moonbiter at 12:18 PM on January 9, 2003


Well, LinemanBear, here's a map that shows winners and losers in the Fed trough slop contest.

Virginia does seem to have a large take in overall dollars, but isn't even close in percentage return. VA's getting back a little over a buck fifty for every buck paid, but AL gets $1.60, MS $1.90, and NM pulls down $2.23(!!). WV is no slouch at $1.83, either. And why the hell is Alaska at $1.74?

33 states are under water to los federales, 16 are paying for their compatriots, and Indiana is the only state that can look anyone square in the eye, as they are exactly even.

My state is carrying a lot of people, at $.77 returned for each buck sent. They are also third in total dollars surplus sent to DC, at $34B, behind only NY and CA. How about some of the rest of you states buy Illinois a beer for doing all that heavy lifting?

Here's more data for those who wish to get comparitive(tables and graphs at the bottom of that section).
posted by dglynn at 12:46 PM on January 9, 2003


a3matrix: Lenny Zakim was a local/regional civil rights activist with lots of ties nationally, but no, he wasn't like, say, Dershowitz (not that he's an "activist," really) in terms of name recognition...god, imagine the firestorm if it were the Dershowitz Bridge! anyway, Lenny was active in improving black/Jewish relations and in founding the Ten Point Coalition, to name two things. he was also a big Springsteen fan and friend, which is why The Boss came to play at the bridge dedication. good guy.
posted by serafinapekkala at 12:50 PM on January 9, 2003


First: I've really enjoyed this thread. I moved to Boston in 1993, and by 1995, I knew I would stay. I love this city. I've loved reading everyone's stories, suggestions, ideas, jokes, alternate routes, and general interest in the subject of maintaining an urban space as its population expands.

troutfishing: The commuter bus lines in the outer suburbs will leave from existing metro line parking lots, to metro line lots close to Boston, where commuters can change to buses which go to targeted, dispersed, areas within Boston (cuts transition time - many commuters can dispense with Boston "T" altogether. )

I believe others have mentioned this, but I had to reply anyway: the beauty of the T is that it's below the traffic. It's not perfect, God knows -- as mcbain said, the Green Line trolleys are past time for retirement and replacement by larger train cars. But anything's better than being on the street when you're trying to get somewhere (unless you're walking).

What worries me is that people who want to live in the city are being priced out of it. I'm already hanging on by my fingernails. Once the Big Dig is finished (if it ever is, and I have my doubts), real estate prices will skyrocket past their already unbelievable numbers. The best move might be to buy the little South End condo I've dreamed about before the Dig approaches completion.

Yes, I wish that some of the money would go toward improving and expanding our T and commuter rail lines. Yes, it's impossible to drive or give directions here ("Well, it was open last week"). Yes, the CA/P is a pain in the collective butt. But I love this city and wouldn't live anywhere else.

PS: Bostonians who need cars occasionally should check out Zipcar.com.
posted by swerve at 12:58 PM on January 9, 2003


Also: wow, California's rich. It outstrips everyone else by almost 100,000 million. -moonbiter

California isn't so much rich as it is very big and very populated.

Per capita federal tax burden:

CA $7,662
IL $7,746

Now Connecticut, they're rich.....

CT $11,359

Even all those "Massholes"(as they apparently refer to each other) have a couple of nickels to rub together....

MA $9,371

The poorest?

MS $4,232
WV $4,325
AR $4,634
NM $4,640

Thus ends our "Stamp Out Innumeracy" campaign for the day. As you were.
posted by dglynn at 1:26 PM on January 9, 2003


How to stop congestion in Boston?

Let everyone know how bad Mass. drivers are.

On a more serious note, I wouldn't consider myself lefty, but if you've walked through Beacon Hill or the North End, you know how amazing car-free inner-city neighborhoods are. If you've taken the silver line, you know how bad Boston busses are. If you've been to Grove Hill or Roslindale, you know that the T doesn't go everywhere. Here's my suggestion - in downtown Boston (say from BU to the North End, and from the Charles to South Station), remove all cars from the roads. Put in a vastly bigger transit, such as a PRT system, which has the benefits of a car but not the problems. Let companies on each street bid to put extra PRT stops ("At the Marriott, you can PRT right to our front door!"). With the highway already underground, you'd have America's greatest city (not that boston isn't already).

And, as an aside, Boston *still* has better Public Transit than anywhere in the United States. You can Commuter Rail yourself to Providence from Boston for 10 bucks. Can't beat that.
posted by Kevs at 1:27 PM on January 9, 2003


Related side note:

I've lived in a lot of different cities, and in every single one of them the locals were convinced that their drivers were the worst, most inconsiderate, most dangerous drivers in the world.

Seems like an odd form of civic pride to me, but hey, whatever revs your engine.
posted by ook at 2:53 PM on January 9, 2003


Thanks for the education serafin. Interesting guy, died a year before I moved here. I hope the bridge can keep hi memory alive.
Who's up for Pizza Regina's?
posted by a3matrix at 4:57 PM on January 9, 2003


For future reference, this is from today's Globe:

1/18/2003

Forty-eight years after work on the Massachusetts Turnpike began, roughly 3,000 laborers, engineers, and dignitaries gathered in a tunnel beneath the Fort Point Channel yesterday to unveil the last 31/2 miles of that highway.

The ceremony signaled the completion of one of the most technically challenging highway projects ever attempted in America: creating a tunnel that sits above a live subway, in a channel full of sea water, and beneath Amtrak and commuter rail lines.

The celebration of the $6.5-billion connector to Logan Airport, which included bunting, a brass band, and a veritable who's who of local political leaders, also marked the completion of Interstate 90's 3,000-plus-mile route from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic.

posted by matteo at 7:34 AM on January 18, 2003


"The Sumner-Callahan tunnels will lose about 25,000 vehicles a day,"

Yoohoo!
posted by Dick Paris at 3:33 AM on January 19, 2003


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