I haven’t written much about Massachusetts’ Big Dig project, but the latest revelations are just too good to share.
But first, a bit of background. The project to rework the highways in and around Boston have been going on for about 20 years. The plan was to tear down the elevated highways and replace them with sunken and buried roadways, along with a few new tunnels under Boston Harbor. The initial cost projection was around 2 billion dollars, making it the among the most expensive public works projects in US history. It’s now behind schedule, pushing close to 15 billion dollars, and — surprise, surprise!! — having problems.
Now, all along officials and supporters have said there would be problems with the project. Simply put, whenever you try doing something this big for the first time, you’re going to run into unforeseen problems. But yesterday’s Boston Herald exposed a few of the screwups (print version only, it seems) that just boggle the mind.
1) Several sections of tunnel walls were made of concrete, and it was done badly. So badly, large sections are already crumbling before the project is even finished.
2) In the rush to meet milestones and deadlines, several roads were paved when the temperature was around freezing. As predicted, those sections of pavement are already falling apart.
3) The Ted Williams Tunnel was built in sections, then assembled. One section, somehow, was built EIGHT FEET short.
4) When they went to repair the sections of highway mentioned in #2, they did it so hastily that they paved over manhole covers. Let me repeat that: THEY PAVED OVER MANHOLE COVERS.
There’s plenty of blame to be tossed around. The Massachusetts Legislature (absolutely dominated by Democrats for as long as I can remember) has used the Big Dig as a “friends and family full employment program.” Their governors (mostly Republican) have looked askance at it, and in one case (Jane Swift) perhaps even helped in the pillaging. It was originally the pet project of House Speaker Tip O’Neill, and Senators Kennedy and Kerry have kept the buckets of money coming to pour down the hole. Congress is now talking about investigations and perhaps even sending a few worthies to jail, but those wheels are turning very, very slowly.
It’s huge, it’s ugly, it works poorly if at all, it won’t go away, and it’s costing us more and more money every time we turn around. At what point can we just call it the Ted Kennedy of public works projects and just bury them together? With luck, it’ll be before there’s another flood in one of the tunnels and someone drowns, completing the Ted Kennedy parallel.