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Welcome to Boston's Future
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Read the transcript of a chat with Dan McNichol, a former spokesman for The Big Dig for eight years. Dan answered user's questions on Tuesday, October 15th on Boston.com.


In the spring of 2003, Chris, a builder on the outer Cape, packs up his pickup truck and his dog Kenya for his fifteenth year high school reunion weekend in New Hampshire. He's dreading the drive through Boston as it's been months since he has ventured off Cape and negotiated the Central Artery.

Approaching the city on the Southeast Expressway he notices something strange - plants and trees in the median. Rounding the Massachusetts Avenue curve the road is much wider. It's a fourteen lane tidal wave of superhighway revealing a new view of Boston at its crest. Chris and Kenya are nearly ten stories high above the Massachusetts Turnpike. Weird, the Pike once dead-ended here. Now it passes beneath the expressway into the new Tip O'Neill tunnel on its way to Logan. Suddenly the truck loses altitude, diving down on the I-93 northbound lanes on a 5.7% grade. He is descending into the tunnel he has been hearing about since grade school.

Driver and dog are lit. The tunnel entrance has intensive lighting to eliminate "tunnel blindness," the dangerous loss of vision when first entering a dark portal. The tunnel walls have red tile stripes informing drivers they're in the I-93 tunnel. This is not the old Dewey Square Tunnel and even Kenya knows it. Plummeting into the abyss, three lanes of traffic become four as a lane from Logan and South Boston join the northbound flow. In fifteen seconds the four lanes pass below the Red Line subway at the deepest point of the new Big Dig tunnel system. The superhighway is 120 feet below the front door of South Station. Chris wonders where the stainless steel doors marked "EXIT" lead to.

This tunnel has volume. It's no wonder thirty-one utility companies spent six years and $600,000,000 clearing a path for its construction. The tunnel rises and banks, climbing as steeply as it dropped a moment ago, heading towards the North End. In less than a minute, another lane of traffic from Atlantic and Northern Avenues joins traveler and dog making the flow five lanes strong. The tunnel reaches its highest point as it passes over the Blue Line subway built in 1904. The tunnel's roof girders are 36 inches under State Street's crosswalks. There is not enough room to even plant a tree. One lane splits off and up into the North End and the other four lanes dive down again, into the underground Haymarket interchange.

This is a trip. The widest, most complicated, underground highway intersection in the world has been wedged into the Old North End, allowing the Sumner and Callahan tunnels to make subterranean connections to the new I-93 tunnel system. Chris' truck, along with eight lanes of north and southbound highway, passes through tunnels reaching 85 feet into bedrock. This is the only original part of the Shawmut Peninsula the Big Dig plowed through. Archeologists uncovered piles of colonial treasures from the 1600's including America's oldest bowling ball. Chris earned $23,000 his first year out of school. This 1,500 foot long section of Big Dig tunnel cost $500,000,000.

Driver and dog begin their last climb from under the North End and head towards the Charles River. As the climb begins, Chris spots a traditional green-and-white-lettered interstate highway sign for Storrow Drive, pointing to a tunnel within the tunnel that leads under North Station. Before he has time to think about how odd this is, he ascends onto the deck of the widest cable stayed bridge in the world with the longest name a politician has ever invented. He's unable to utter, "Leonard P. Zakim, Bunker Hill Memorial Bridge" before he and Kenya are over the river and beyond the bridge's 330 ft. north tower. Now, high above Charlestown and Somerville, he wonders if anyone at the reunion will believe his five minute odyssey beneath Boston.

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