archBOSTON.org

Go Back   archBOSTON.org > Boston's Built Environment > Transit and Infrastructure

Transit and Infrastructure All things T or civilly engineered within Boston Metro.

Reply
 
Thread Tools Search this Thread
Old 12-26-2007, 02:46 PM   #1
JimboJones
Senior Member
 
Join Date: Apr 2007
Posts: 935
The Big Dig is completed!

Define "completed" ...

Quote:
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, 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, tunnels leaks, 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, Dec. 31 marks the end of the joint venture that teamed megaproject contractor Bechtel/Parsons Brinckerhoff with the Massachusetts Turnpike 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, 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 Project ? as the Big Dig is officially known ? has its roots in the construction of the hulking 1950's era elevated Central Artery that cut a swath through the center of Boston, lopping 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 Salvucci, 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 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 the 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 I-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, were also found.

Some delays were unrelated to construction.

The Leonard P. Zakim Bunker Hill 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.

But the project's darkest day came near the end of construction in 2006 when suspended concrete ceiling panels in a tunnel leading to Logan Airport 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 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.

The project's escalating budget also became an unwanted part of its legacy.

In 2000, former Big Dig head James Kerasiotes resigned after failing to disclose $1.4 billion in overruns. A frustrated Congress capped the federal contribution.

"It never should have taken so long. It never should have been so expensive," said former Gov. Michael Dukakis, who left office just as major construction was to begin.

For those who grew up with the noise and clutter of the old Central Artery, the transformation of downtown Boston is still a wonder to behold.

The darkened parking lots under the old elevated highway have been replaced by parks, dubbed the Rose Kennedy Fitzgerald Greenway after the mother of Sen. Edward Kennedy, who grew up in the North End. Buildings that once turned their backs to the old Central Artery are finding ways to open their doors to the parkway.

Mayor Thomas Menino, who presided over the city during most of the construction, said that for the first time in half a century, residents can walk from City Hall to the waterfront without trudging under a major highway.

"When I came into office in 1993, people said your city isn't going to survive," he said. "Now we have a beautiful open space in the heart of the city. It knits the downtown with the waterfront. All those dire predictions by the experts didn't come true."

Drivers also give the Big Dig a big thumbs up.

A study by the Turnpike Authority found the Big Dig cut the average trip through Boston from 19.5 minutes to 2.8 minutes.

"Before we drive bumper to bumper, but now they are moving very well," said Gamal Ahmed, 38, who has been driving a cab in Boston for seven years. "Sometimes we are stuck, but not like before."

For Salvucci, who warns gridlock 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. It had to be done."
Source: Boston's $14.8B Big Dig finally complete - By Steve LeBlanc, Associated Press
JimboJones is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 12-26-2007, 04:08 PM   #2
Ron Newman
Senior Member
 
Join Date: May 2006
Location: Davis Square, Somerville, MA
Posts: 8,399
Send a message via AIM to Ron Newman
Re: The Big Dig is completed!

If the Big Dig is to be finished at the end of 2007, then some contractor (Cashman, I think) needs to very quickly remove their equipment and fencing from the Greenway, just north of Marketplace Center.
Ron Newman is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 12-27-2007, 08:25 AM   #3
cden4
Senior Member
 
Join Date: Sep 2007
Posts: 1,018
Re: The Big Dig is completed!

They better get started on the pedestrian bridges across the Charles and over the commuter rail tracks that were planned as part of it as well. They are currently on hold due to lack of funding... shocking.
cden4 is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 12-29-2007, 12:24 PM   #4
whighlander
Senior Member
 
Join Date: Aug 2006
Location: Lexington
Posts: 6,519
Re: The Big Dig is completed!

I think the term that you are looking for is called "Substantial Completion" -- just like when you move into a new house

It will take you a year to get all the remaining kinks ironed-out with the utilities, sticking windows, etc., -- and then you can find all the missing stuff that got packed at your old house and is now stored in boxes either in your basement, garage or attic.

There will still be some loose-ends, particularly associated with the parks that will be underway over the next year or so. Of course if the various buildings that have been proposed for the ramp parcels ever come to fruition -- you still be seeing construction crews and equipment in the area for the next decade.

If you really want to see the Big Dig -- er now it should be the BIG DUG -- at its best -- before the inevitable, rust, cracking concrete and other decay becomes too prominent -- then come back about in 2012

By the way the Greenway should begin to fill in pretty well by then and I'd bet that most of the existing buildings that can relatively easily re-orient themselves toward the Greenway will have done so

So let's look at a major celebration for all BIG DUG fans in 2012 -- maybe associated with the Harborfest

With a major {First Night - type} Fireworking over the Inner Harbor, etc.,?...I'll be heading on down to Long Warf now to stake-out my seat......before the rush starts?.


Westy
whighlander is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 02-23-2008, 03:51 PM   #5
vanshnookenraggen
Moderator
 
vanshnookenraggen's Avatar
 
Join Date: May 2006
Location: New York City
Posts: 6,072
Re: The Big Dig is completed!

Quote:
Boston Has High Hopes Now That the Dig Is Done
Jodi Hilton for The New York Times

Published: February 24, 2008

BOSTON ? In the gloom of winter, it is hard to see potential amid the strips of brown grass and pavement that lie where this city?s hulking elevated highway used to be.

But with the $15 billion construction project known as the Big Dig officially over as of last month, the promised transformation of downtown Boston ? not just its traffic patterns but also its look, its feel, its very essence ? finally seems within reach.

Expectations are high, and for good reason. The Big Dig drained not only public coffers but also the psyche of Boston as it replaced the traffic-choked highway with sleek tunnels over nearly two decades. The construction forced hellish traffic jams and proved faulty, with the new tunnels springing hundreds of leaks and worse. Four workers died during the construction, and in 2006, concrete ceiling panels in one tunnel collapsed and killed a woman in a car.

Where the highway used to be is now a milelong green space with benches, fountains and fledgling trees ready to welcome pedestrians come spring. Where the highway cut off waterfront neighborhoods from the rest of the city, there is now a clear view to Boston Harbor, the Italian North End, the New England Aquarium and the wharfs that surround it.

Yet problems persist. The Big Dig was one of the most expensive public works projects in the nation?s history, and money for finishing touches is scarce. The real estate downturn has threatened development along the corridor, and the new parks, skinny and hemmed in by busy three-lane surface roads, present their own hurdles.

Lackluster fund-raising and other obstacles have stalled plans for four new buildings along the greenway ? a museum, a cultural center, a visitors center and a Y.M.C.A. ? and a glassed-in garden planned for its southern tip has been scrapped.

While the project was a godsend for drivers ? a study by the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority found it cut the average trip through Boston to 2.8 minutes from 19.5 ? residents are looking to the $100 million worth of aesthetic changes for more proof the agony was worth it. Advocates of the project, meanwhile, are pleading for more patience.

?Everything is so supercharged around this project,? said Anthony Flint, director of public affairs for the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, a research group in Cambridge. ?But it?s a delicate balance. You want to think of this as the signature space of Boston, but at the same time you have to allow it to evolve.?

That evolution has definitely begun.

Along the new park space, called the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway, buildings that long ago sealed off windows overlooking the highway are reopening them. New housing, shops and offices are in the works. One former warehouse has been renamed Greenway Place Condominiums, with luxury lofts that start around $800,000.

?It?s going to be way better, I think, than anything I dreamed of,? said Frederick Salvucci, a former Massachusetts transportation secretary who helped conceive of the Big Dig in the 1970s and championed it through multiple delays and cost overruns.

Mr. Salvucci and others hope the new corridor, replacing what he called ?a big ugly slash in the city,? will eventually rival cherished public spaces like Las Ramblas in Barcelona and the Embarcadero in San Francisco.

The city considered it a major victory when, in 1991, the state decided that 75 percent of the land created as a result of the Big Dig must be left as open space. But while the greenway is divided into four parks totaling 10.5 acres, all are limited in design and function because they are built over tunnels and surrounded by traffic.

The southernmost park, bordering Chinatown, has a red gateway at its entrance, fan-shaped paving stones and bamboo plantings. The next, which greets commuters arriving at South Station, was supposed to have the glassed-in garden but now will be regular garden space with little pavement.

The next parcel, facing the aquarium, has a circular plaza, a large fountain and tall glass lights that glow purple at night. And the northernmost park, connecting downtown with the North End?s famous restaurants, has tables, chairs and a long, bench-lined pergola that will be covered with vines. More than 1,300 trees have been planted along the greenway.

The Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway Conservancy, a nonprofit group created to oversee the greenway, is raising money for its upkeep and considering what kind of activities would best suit the space. Summertime festivals for children, morning yoga classes and organized walks through the parks are likely.

Jerold Kayden, a professor of urban planning and design at Harvard, said that the parks lacked boldness and creativity and that the corridor remained ?an urban void.? It might have been more interesting, Professor Kayden said, to leave the highway intact as an elevated park like the planned High Line, formerly a railway, on the West Side of Manhattan.

?One would be hard-pressed to say this is a creative, cohesive, singular public space that will redefine the city of Boston,? he said. ?And that is too bad, when you have that much space.?

Others say the space merely needs to evolve, and that in time, the greenway and the development that rises alongside it will have the same impact that filling in the Back Bay ? formerly tidewater flats along the Charles River, now one of Boston?s most upscale neighborhoods ? did more than a century ago.

?I think you?ll see these spaces realizing the same kind of historic contribution that the Boston Common and the Public Garden have made,? said Richard Dimino, president of A Better City, a business group that has closely monitored the Big Dig. ?But I don?t think we?re there yet.?

Some who live and work along the greenway are worried they will be priced out by the upscale development. In Chinatown, others say that a planned 27-story residential tower will threaten their neighborhood?s character. And some vendors at the Haymarket, a hectic, scruffy produce market, are worried they will no longer be welcome.

But Alan Caparella, whose family has owned Mother Anna?s in the North End for 70 years, said the greenway was a boon for the restaurant, which borders it.

?People are finally starting to come back into the city that wouldn?t come in here five, six, eight years ago because of the Big Dig,? Mr. Caparella said. ?Now, if you go out on the patio on a nice summer day, you?re looking at a beautiful skyline. Before, we were looking at construction. You couldn?t open the doors. We?d open the door for half an hour and see dust settle on the bar and the glasses and the white tablecloths.?

He added: ?Now I?m looking at park. I?m looking out the window right now at people walking back and forth to City Hall and Faneuil Hall, and we?re right in the middle of it.?
Link
__________________
http://www.vanshnookenraggen.com | http://futurembta.com | http://hyperrealcartography.tumblr.com
brivx: well, my philosophy is: as designers, we make a good theater, we dont direct the play
vanshnookenraggen is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 02-23-2008, 04:00 PM   #6
czsz
Senior Member
 
czsz's Avatar
 
Join Date: Jan 2007
Location: brooklyn
Posts: 6,052
Re: The Big Dig is completed!

Quote:
Mr. Salvucci and others hope the new corridor, replacing what he called ?a big ugly slash in the city,? will eventually rival cherished public spaces like Las Ramblas in Barcelona and the Embarcadero in San Francisco.
"Eventually" meaning whenever Salvucci is replaced and someone with vision scraps and rebuilds this thing.
czsz is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 02-23-2008, 04:53 PM   #7
Charlie_mta
Senior Member
 
Charlie_mta's Avatar
 
Join Date: Jul 2006
Posts: 1,094
Re: The Big Dig is completed!

"The Big Dig is completed!" sounds jarringly like the "Mission accomplished" misstatement by George Bush a few years ago.

The Big Dig isn't completed. The pedestrian bridges spanning the railroads and the Charles River north of Leverett Circle aren't built and are underfunded at this point.

The leaking of the mainline tunnels under the Greenway continues unabated, and needs additional construction to premanently fix.

The Greenway parks, particularly from Dewey Square north through the Wharf District, are maudlin disasters that need not just re-tooling as parks, but some courageous rethinking about filling some of the gaping emptiness with commercial/residential development.

No, the Big Dig is far from finished.
Charlie_mta is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 02-23-2008, 05:37 PM   #8
Ron Newman
Senior Member
 
Join Date: May 2006
Location: Davis Square, Somerville, MA
Posts: 8,399
Send a message via AIM to Ron Newman
Re: The Big Dig is completed!

Quote:
Originally Posted by czsz View Post
"Eventually" meaning whenever Salvucci is replaced and someone with vision scraps and rebuilds this thing.
Fred Salvucci hasn't been in charge of anything since about 1990. The Big Dig was his idea, but it was largely executed by other people.
Ron Newman is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 03-02-2008, 12:22 PM   #9
rikahlberg
Member
 
rikahlberg's Avatar
 
Join Date: May 2007
Location: Hyde Square, Jamaica Plain
Posts: 52
Re: The Big Dig is completed!

The Big Dig will be done when you can ride a Green Line streetcar beyond Heath Street in Jamaica Plain.
rikahlberg is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 03-02-2008, 02:03 PM   #10
nico
Senior Member
 
Join Date: Mar 2007
Location: Chelsea
Posts: 413
Re: The Big Dig is completed!

Has any part of the project been named after Salvucci? If not, are there plans to do so?
nico is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 03-03-2008, 04:20 AM   #11
statler
Administrator
 
statler's Avatar
 
Join Date: May 2006
Location: Approaching a City
Posts: 7,289
Re: The Big Dig is completed!

Quote:
Originally Posted by The Globe
Big Dig still runs a long to-do list
2,000 final touches left for contractors; No official date set for the completion



Tiles have been removed on the northbound section of the Thomas P. O'Neill Jr. Tunnel in Boston as part of
ongoing leak repairs. The Big Dig still has about 2,000 maintenance items to take care of, so workers will
be making repairs for at least the next 18 months. (David L. Ryan/Globe Staff)


By Noah Bierman, Globe Staff | March 3, 2008

Two months after turnpike managers parted with the Big Dig's chief engineer, shuttered the project's offices, and let its lead contract expire, workers are contending with a 2,000-item to-do list, an indication that the Big Dig remains a long way from finality.

Anyone who has ever hired workers to install a kitchen or repair a roof knows the endgame can be the most annoying chapter, the time to wonder when the contractor will show up and finish the job, and whether domestic peace will ever be restored.

In the case of the Big Dig, an entire state is struggling with the whims of dozens of contractors over the manhole covers that need replacing, the misplaced signs, the missing pedestrian handrails on the sidewalk. At the same time, more serious safety issues such as repairs of ceiling leaks are also delaying the project's completion.

But the many little things left undone easily could be overlooked now that managers at the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority have declared the Big Dig all but finished.

Today, the Big Dig has the long "punch list" - contractor-speak for the cleanup jobs, finishing touches, and repairs that remain after the main job is done.

"It's a $14 billion project. It's not a $200,000 house," said Alan LeBovidge, executive director of the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority, which runs the Big Dig. "It's a massive project. This is our Hoover Dam."

Hundreds of the items are hard to notice: a half-dead cherry tree in a median, long slated for replacement, or the wrong material used for identification tags on circuitry. But in some cases, the leftover work requires crews to close off streets and tunnels and create detours. These jobs have delayed the arrival of the smooth drive that motorists were hoping for after years of Big Dig construction.

"All those small things add up," said Senator Steven A. Baddour , a Methuen Democrat who cochairs the Joint Committee on Transportation.

Every week, the Globe publishes a list of streets that are closed for construction around the Big Dig tunnels, usually from 11:30 p.m. until 5 a.m. It has been the same for months at a time: Interstate 92 south Exit 23 to Purchase Street; the Essex Street onramps; two of three lanes of I-93 north through downtown and Charlestown; and so on.

Helmut Ernst, the chief turnpike engineer, said some of the closures are related to unfinished punch list items, some were related to maintenance, repairs, and inspections, but he declined to give specifics on each job.

Big Dig managers warned in November that the last 1 percent of the project would take a while to finish. Ernst said last week that most of the punch list work would be done in 18 months, but he did not promise finality.

" 'Complete' is a very difficult term in this environment," he said.

LeBovidge was equally cautious, saying he did not want to be lumped with the "thousands that have always been wrong" if he made another prediction related to the Big Dig.

"We don't have a fixed date," LeBovidge said. "We're doing it as fast as we can get it done. . . . The Big Dig is functional. Everybody is using it."

But he warned that even when the remaining work is finished, maintenance on the project will be an ongoing concern. LeBovidge pointed out that the Ted Williams Tunnel is more than a decade old and needs repairs.

"Some of [the tunnel's] big fans need substantial replacement already," he said, adding that work on major public projects never ends.

"I bet if you went to the Grand Coulee Dam, you'd find guys working on stuff that was built in the 1930s," he said.

The Big Dig's punch list fills a 3-inch binder and includes jobs that were scheduled to be completed as far back as 2001. LeBovidge and Ernst were unable to estimate the cost to complete them. An unsigned Turnpike Authority memo distributed at a November meeting said that the project had $160 million in "construction value" to complete, including projects and claims against the authority from contractors.

As long as shovels are in the ground, critics will continue to question whether the project will ever end.

"This project has been so disastrous," said Senator Mark C. Montigny, a New Bedford Democrat and longtime Big Dig critic. "People should assume that the final outcome will be very disappointing at best, and that means it will go on longer than anybody expects it. The budget will be bloated."

Montigny has little faith in contractors sticking around to finish.

"Why would anybody assume that they are not running for the hills as quickly as they can?" he said.

LeBovidge and Ernst say the work in the punch list has been accounted for in the project's overall budget, currently $14.8 billion. But there are risks that the Big Dig will tip past that mark. Contractors are suing over an additional $145 million they say they are owed on issues that turnpike managers are disputing.

When it comes to dealing with contractors, LeBovidge said he has more leverage than a homeowner would on a renovation project. Big Dig employees can go back and do the work if necessary and then bill the contractor, LeBovidge said.

He mentioned one prominent contractor, Modern Continental, as an example of a firm that has had financial trouble and may not be able to fulfill all the work the authority was expecting. Ernst said some contractors may not be paid if they do not complete the jobs, though he said some of the work in question will be the subject of bargaining.

The key to getting remaining work done may be a sense of urgency. Now that the Big Dig is being run by the Turnpike Authority, many of the old managers are gone.

The monthly progress reports Big Dig construction managers once put on the Internet for the sake of transparency have not been posted since August. Turnpike Authority spokesman Mac Daniel said staff is working on putting a January update online soon. He could not say when.

Andrea Estes of the Globe staff contributed to this article. Bierman can be reached at nbierman@globe.com.
Link
statler is online now   Reply With Quote
Old 03-03-2008, 07:32 AM   #12
vanshnookenraggen
Moderator
 
vanshnookenraggen's Avatar
 
Join Date: May 2006
Location: New York City
Posts: 6,072
Re: The Big Dig is completed!

Why do something right when you could wait. This tunnel isn't going to last any longer than the old Central Artery. Build it and let it fall to pieces, no wonder this countries infrastructure is in such dire straights.
__________________
http://www.vanshnookenraggen.com | http://futurembta.com | http://hyperrealcartography.tumblr.com
brivx: well, my philosophy is: as designers, we make a good theater, we dont direct the play
vanshnookenraggen is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 03-03-2008, 12:45 PM   #13
czsz
Senior Member
 
czsz's Avatar
 
Join Date: Jan 2007
Location: brooklyn
Posts: 6,052
Re: The Big Dig is completed!

Quote:
Build it and let it fall to pieces
I can't wait for the Greenway to become the Green Valley! The weed-stricken ruins would certainly be more worth visiting than the current iteration.
czsz is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 07-17-2008, 08:57 AM   #14
vanshnookenraggen
Moderator
 
vanshnookenraggen's Avatar
 
Join Date: May 2006
Location: New York City
Posts: 6,072
Re: The Big Dig is completed!

Quote:
Big Dig's red ink engulfs state
Cost spirals to $22b; crushing debt sidetracks other work, pushes agency toward insolvency
By Sean P. Murphy
Globe Staff / July 17, 2008
Massachusetts residents got a shock when state officials, at the peak of construction on the Big Dig project, disclosed that the price tag had ballooned to nearly $15 billion. But that, it turns out, was just the beginning.

Spiral of Big Dig debt
Now, three years after the official dedication of the Central Artery/Third Harbor Tunnel, the state is reeling under a legacy of debt left by the massive project. In all, the project will cost an additional $7 billion in interest, bringing the total to a staggering $22 billion, according to a Globe review of hundreds of pages of state documents. It will not be paid off until 2038.

Contrary to the popular belief that this was a project heavily subsidized by the federal government, 73 percent of construction costs were paid by Massachusetts drivers and taxpayers. To meet that obligation, the state's annual payments will be nearly as much over the next several years, $600 million or more, as they were in the heaviest construction period.

Big Dig payments have already sucked maintenance and repair money away from deteriorating roads and bridges across the state, forcing the state to float more highway bonds and to go even deeper into the hole.

Among other signs of financial trouble: The state is paying almost 80 percent of its highway workers with borrowed money; the crushing costs of debt have pushed the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority, which manages the Big Dig, to the brink of insolvency; and Massachusetts spends a higher percentage of its highway budget on debt than any other state.

The scope of the debt has not previously been calculated, much less publicly disclosed, by the state's political leaders, including Governor Deval Patrick and his senior transportation officials. The Globe confirmed its calculations in interviews with the state's financial analysts.

"The Big Dig saddled us with costs we can't afford," said Bernard Cohen, secretary of transportation. "We are grappling with that legacy now. There are no easy answers."

The debt is a big part of why Massachusetts had the highest tax-supported debt per capita in the United States last year. Most of the Big Dig borrowing occurred when cost overruns on the tunnel network skyrocketed in the late 1990s and state officials scrambled to keep the partially completed project afloat.

The impact of the debt can be seen in some frustrating and alarming ways.

During the last three years, Massachusetts spent the most of any state, by far, 38 percent of its highway budget, on debt payments, according to Globe analysis of federal data. The median is less than 6 percent nationally.

The state has also been forced to meet payroll demands for 1,400 Massachusetts Highway Department workers with borrowed money because it does not have enough cash to pay them. That means that painters and clerical workers paid around $18 an hour cost the state $28.80 an hour. The 80 percent of the workforce being paid with borrowed money compares to 14 percent before the Big Dig work began.

Across the state, commuters are suffering daily for the massive shortfalls that have led to closings and stalled projects.

In Boston, Red Line trains on the Longfellow Bridge are forced to a crawl, trucks are prohibited, and the volume of passenger cars is restricted. On the South Shore, the Fore River Bridge between Quincy and Weymouth is awaiting replacement while motorists squeeze over a temporary span. And in Southeastern Massachusetts, Fall River motorists are frustrated with the pace of work on replacing the Brightman Street Bridge.

"It's a mess," said Fall River resident Muriel Pomprowicz.

Other such signs of neglect include a fleet of rusty trucks, some of them 12 years old, that are still on the road.

From the start, the Big Dig was supposed to be paid for jointly by the federal and state governments. When the project was unveiled in the early 1980s, Massachusetts residents were told by transportation officials that the federal government would pick up 90 percent of the cost. Based on cost and borrowing estimates made at that time, state residents were expected to spend around $345 million, interest payments on debt included.

But the federal government ruled that the project was not eligible for that level of federal support. As costs mounted over the next two decades, it was the state's responsibility to make up the difference. Ultimately, the federal government paid just 27 percent of the construction costs, or about $4 billion.

As a result, the Globe analysis of state and federal data shows, state taxpayers and toll-payers are responsible for a staggering $18 billion of the total $22 billion in construction and debt costs.

The Massachusetts Turnpike Authority, which was brought in to oversee the Big Dig construction in 1996 as part of a financial rescue plan, borrowed $1.8 billion, but will have to pay back almost $5 billion, including interest. Its borrowing was so expensive because it was financed over 40 years, twice as long as the vast majority of government debt, with no principal due for the first 10 years.

It is now unable to keep up with its share of the state's debt payments and is in desperate need of a bailout. Alan LeBovidge, the turnpike's new executive director, estimates a yawning deficit next year in the authority's operating budget, $70 to $100 million.

"There is a funding gap," said LeBovidge. "It's a large number, and I don't have a magic wand."

The authority's annual payments on its Big Dig debt are $115 million now. Those payments will level off at $145 million annually by 2020 and continue for another 18 years. The capital budget for construction, paving, and inspection for the Big Dig and the 137-mile Massachusetts Turnpike, meanwhile, has been slashed to $22 million, about 19 percent of the debt expense.
The Turnpike Authority raised tolls last year, but will need to raise them again and again to stay afloat. It may even add tolls on the approaches to its downtown tunnels to alleviate the load on commuters from the western suburbs.

"It's outrageous that toll-payers wind up footing the bill when others get a free ride," said Mary Z. Connaughton, a Turnpike Authority board member.

Quantifying the amount of money that was diverted to the Big Dig from statewide road and bridge repair and construction programs is difficult. A Globe analysis of data maintained by the Federal Highway Administration shows spending for state roads and bridges lagged behind other states. If Massachusetts had kept pace, it would have spent an additional $851 million.

"The Big Dig drained funding away," Cohen said. "I can't tell you exactly how much, but it's been in the billions of dollars."

There are two sources of state highway funds: state borrowing and reimbursement to the state on federal gasoline taxes collected in Massachusetts. The Big Dig, which makes up 7.5 miles of an 11,000-mile system, gobbled up about 40 percent of those funds during the last 17 years, data show.

Since planning for the Big Dig began, the state gas tax was raised only once, in 1991, to help pay for the Big Dig. That two-cent-per-gallon increase contributed a modest amount to the project.

"The state didn't want to pay the cost as we went along, so now it is time to pay the piper," said Alan Altshuler, former state transportation secretary. "It's quite a bind, and there is no obvious way out. It's something the politicians have to figure out."

So far, the answer adopted by Governor Deval Patrick and his administration is a familiar one: Borrow more money to meet current transportation needs. The administration has gained legislative approval for $5 billion in new borrowing for transportation projects and is asking for $4 billion more in a plan to get the state's 3,000 bridges into top condition over the next eight years.

Asked why the state doesn't raise taxes to help pay for its burgeoning costs, Cohen said no such course was necessary.

"We can afford these borrowings within the income stream we have today," Cohen said. "Raising taxes is not on the table."

Since taking office, Patrick has proposed merging the Turnpike Authority with other transportation agencies to increase efficiency and save money. He also has begun to reduce the number of workers being paid with borrowed money.

There have been high-level discussions about adding tolls on Interstate 93, as well, though Cohen insists only as a last resort.

"What is on the table is reform and reorganization to show people we are serious about sound policy," he said. "We need to turn things around before we ask people to dig in deeper in pocket."

Cohen said eliminating consulting contracts, reducing senior staff, and curtailing overtime at the turnpike have contributed to $14 million in savings in the last year.

But more is needed, said Michael Widmer, president of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation. It simply avoids the nasty reality by borrowing deeper and longer into future, he said.

"They are not addressing the situation, they are just shifting billions of dollars of debt to future generations," Widmer said.

"Nobody wants to be the one to increase taxes," he said. "But without taxes, it means the next generation will face a deep hole."

Sean Murphy can be reached at smurphy@globe.com.
Link

Well, that's fucking crazy. Kiss all those T expansions goodbye. They say putting tolls on 93 is a last resort, I think it should be the first step. And Patrick continuing to borrow money just shows how blind our leaders are. This could be the beginning to another long depression for Boston if the state cannot get it's act together.
__________________
http://www.vanshnookenraggen.com | http://futurembta.com | http://hyperrealcartography.tumblr.com
brivx: well, my philosophy is: as designers, we make a good theater, we dont direct the play
vanshnookenraggen is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 07-17-2008, 09:47 AM   #15
Lurker
Senior Member
 
Lurker's Avatar
 
Join Date: Jun 2006
Location: Here and there now and then
Posts: 2,362
Re: The Big Dig is completed!

If the state wasn't blowing half its personnel budgets on dead weight patronage positions and outrageous pensions maybe it could afford to pay the people who actually do work. The state needs to merge a lot of redundant agencies, eliminate do nothing jobs (management and administration positions are so top heavy it isn't funny), and reform the benefits system (No more pensions and double dipping, switch to 401ks like the rest of us) to be in line with the private sector. Can we please get term limits while we're at it?

Adding tolls would be a band-aid to the debt and attract both the publics ire and great attention to the state's spending habits. More taxes are only going to drive people and business from the state. Pumping money into an agency that already leaks like the tunnels isn't going to fix anything. The whole mess will only reaffirm that the state doesn't have the act together.They'd rather leave the system broken to protect their cushy jobs until the end when everything is literally crashing down, rather than fix the system. I can see entire agencies trying to pull a Billy Bulger on this pending disaster.

Last edited by Lurker; 07-17-2008 at 09:49 PM.
Lurker is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 07-17-2008, 06:00 PM   #16
pjm
Junior Member
 
Join Date: Apr 2008
Posts: 4
Re: The Big Dig is completed!

It is unbelievable to me that this can be true, and yet there are no tolls on 93. It is like whining about a headache and refusing to take tylenol. Unbelievable.
pjm is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 07-19-2008, 11:30 PM   #17
Charlie_mta
Senior Member
 
Charlie_mta's Avatar
 
Join Date: Jul 2006
Posts: 1,094
Re: The Big Dig is completed!

Given the absolutely bleak fiscal situation of the Big Dig deficit and lack of funding for transit improvements, tolls are a definite must.

Tolls should be placed on every limited access highway inside Route 128 (I-95). This would not only provide funding for road and transit capital improvements, it would also encourage more use of transit and discourage automobile commuting.

I would place tolls on the following routes:
I-93 from Reading to Quincy,
Northeast Expressway from Tobin Bridge to Saugus,
Route 2 from Alewife out to I-95, and
Storrow Drive from Western Ave to Hatch Shell.

With the new E-Z Pass electronic tolling technology, most traffic would not have to slow down at all to pay the tolls.
Charlie_mta is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 07-20-2008, 03:19 AM   #18
vanshnookenraggen
Moderator
 
vanshnookenraggen's Avatar
 
Join Date: May 2006
Location: New York City
Posts: 6,072
Re: The Big Dig is completed!

This is Boston's version of congestion pricing. Let's hope it stands up to the power of Beacon Hill rather than crash and burn like in Albany.
__________________
http://www.vanshnookenraggen.com | http://futurembta.com | http://hyperrealcartography.tumblr.com
brivx: well, my philosophy is: as designers, we make a good theater, we dont direct the play
vanshnookenraggen is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 07-21-2008, 04:20 PM   #19
Suffolk 83
Senior Member
 
Join Date: Nov 2007
Location: South End
Posts: 1,794
Re: The Big Dig is completed!

if there's tolls on 93, doesn't that defeat the purpose of the tunnels? ie traffic?
Suffolk 83 is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 07-21-2008, 05:21 PM   #20
vanshnookenraggen
Moderator
 
vanshnookenraggen's Avatar
 
Join Date: May 2006
Location: New York City
Posts: 6,072
Re: The Big Dig is completed!

Not really. People will still drive. The Pike has tolls and it has plenty of traffic. Also the tunnels were needed because the Central Artery structure was in terrible shape.

I think tolls are the only acceptable answer to par for the Big Dig. So many other highway projects throughout the world pay for large projects this way.
__________________
http://www.vanshnookenraggen.com | http://futurembta.com | http://hyperrealcartography.tumblr.com
brivx: well, my philosophy is: as designers, we make a good theater, we dont direct the play
vanshnookenraggen is offline   Reply With Quote
Reply

Thread Tools Search this Thread
Search this Thread:

Advanced Search

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is On
HTML code is Off
Forum Jump


All times are GMT -5. The time now is 09:27 AM.


Powered by vBulletin® Version 3.7.3
Copyright ©2000 - 2018, Jelsoft Enterprises Ltd.