On Dec. 31, It's Official: Boston's Big Dig Will Be Done

By Steve LeBlanc
Associated Press
Wednesday, December 26, 2007

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, as well as tunnel leaks, epic traffic jams, last year's death of a motorist crushed by concrete ceiling 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.

Dec. 31 marks the official 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. Construction started in 1991.

The project was so complex, it has been likened to performing open-heart surgery on a wide-awake patient.

Some Boston residents didn't know if they would live to see it end.

Enza Merola had a front-row seat on the reconstruction from the front window of her pastry shop in Boston's North End.

During the toughest days of the project, the facade of Marie's Pastry Shop, named after Merola's 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, 1950s-era elevated Central Artery, which cut a swath through the center of Boston, separating 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.

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