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

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, killing Del Valle, 39, a passenger in a car 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's manufacturer.

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

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

In 2000, 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 governor Michael Dukakis (D), 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The dark parking lots under the old elevated highway have been replaced by parks, dubbed the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway after the mother of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D), who grew up in the North End. Buildings that 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 that 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 that 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."

Associated Press writer Rodrique Ngowi contributed to this report.

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