January 05, 2001, 11:13 AM — THE STORY BROKE ON FEB. 1, 2000: the Big Dig was not just over budget, it was wildly, insanely, frighteningly and perhaps feloniously over budget. The front-page headline in the Boston Herald read: "Big Cost of Big Dig Could Grow by $1.4B."
The "B" was for billion.
People were outraged; no one was surprised.
The Big Dig has been a fact of Boston life for almost a decade. Since ground was first broken in 1991, the city has been torn up, dug up and burrowed under. The Central Artery/Tunnel Project (the Big Dig's official name) was designed to replace the old six-lane, 1.5-mile elevated Central Artery. When it opened in 1959, the Artery was supposed to accommodate 75,000 vehicles a day. Today, more than 190,000 motorists from Boston's northern and southern suburbs sit in hellish traffic for up to 10 hours, Monday through Friday.
When the Big Dig is completed (target date: 2004), the elevated highway that has divided neighborhoods, scarred the city and hidden the waterfront for over 40 years will be gone, replaced by an eight-to-10-lane expressway running beneath the streets of Boston. There will also be a tunnel underneath the Fort Point Channel, another beneath Boston Harbor, two bridges over the Charles River, and 27 acres of public and commercial space where the Artery once stood.
Throughout the '90s, as Boston watched the tall cranes gather and the deep holes grow, it was obvious that an enormous amount of money was being spent. Back in 1982, Massachusetts politicians (most famously House Speaker Thomas P. "Tip" O'Neil) lowballed the estimated cost of the project to secure funding through the federal Surface Transportation and Technical Corrections Act. The politicians said it would cost $2.2 billion. Today, the price tag is $14.1 billion -- most of it coming out of taxpayers' wallets -- and climbing.
Of course, that $14 billion pays for a lot. The Dig is the largest and most technologically complex public works project in U.S. history -- bigger than the Panama Canal or the Hoover Dam. In the course of the Big Dig: