Mass Pike Air Rights
The Massachusetts Turnpike cuts a two and a half mile long, 300 foot wide gash through Boston. Interstate 90, also known as the Boston Extension of the Mass Pike, is wider and more divisive to the city than the Central Artery's mile and half of elevated highway along I-93. The Pike's construction decimated Chinatown in 1963 by splitting the neighborhood in two, creating a canyon as deep as the Central Artery is high. The Pike widened the divide between the Back Bay and the South End and splintered Bay Village. It cut Fredrick Law Olmstead's Emerald Necklace in half at the Muddy River leaving a modern day moat between the Fens, Brookline, Allston and the Charles River. Now, in a remarkable twist, the air above the Pike is as valuable as it is full of potential.
There are 44 acres of air above the Pike that could be turned into working city streets, sidewalks, residential, and commercial districts. The Big Dig, also managed by the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority, has become a real world model for the highway agency. The pain and suffering the Authority has endured while finalizing the development over the downtown tunnels have made it wiser and more capable as it pushes to market and develop its own air rights. The task comes down to 23 parcels above the highway located between Chinatown and Boston University. The Massachusetts Turnpike needs to find developers with money and patience to do the right thing. The developers must convince the neighborhoods they won't ruin their lives and the city has to say it's all o.k. by them. Not an easy task in Boston, but anything is possible... in fact, it has already been done.
To appreciate the potential of covering the Pike and re-connecting the city, walk down Dartmouth Street, starting on Tremont Street, and head for the Charles River. It's a wonderful trip through the South End, Copley Square, and the Back Bay that lands you on the Esplanade after you find a pedestrian bridge over a loud and ugly Storrow Drive. Along your walk, there are no signs, sounds, or smells from the eight lanes of the Massachusetts Turnpike and four sets of railroad tracks. Do you even know where they are today? They were covered in the 1980's. They are under your feet when you walk past The Back Bay/South End train station. Let's cover the whole thing.
Pulling together landowners and financial backers to create a strong development team has always been a challenge; the events of 9/11 have only complicated the procedure of developing property over a public thoroughfare.
Construction creates another set of complications. Eight lanes of highway and four train lines must remain fully active throughout construction. Bedrock has to be found, here approximately 130 feet below the surface. To do this, slurry walls, a product perfected through years of Big Dig construction, must be built in three locations: one along each side, and one in the middle. The entire building is forced to land on a median, literally becoming a building on stilts. Construction is precarious, as any dropped tool could cause serious injury or worse. A worker's productivity is severely hindered by the constraints of working over the highway; the deck costs up to an estimated $700 per square foot to create.
This process takes years. The following timeline is one example. This air rights project is in process at Parcels 8, 9 and 10