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Beyond The Big Dig
About this project

What happens to the ribbon of land being created by the depression of the Central Artery may be the most important development decision to face Boston in a generation.


Artery turf battle


THE MASSACHUSETTS Turnpike Authority is embroiled in another intragovernmental flap, this one involving the crucial Wharf District parcels of public open space that will be created at street level when the elevated Central Artery comes down.

These parcels -- from Christopher Columbus Park in the North End to High Street opposite the Boston Harbor Hotel -- form the centerpiece of the Rose Kennedy Greenway, which has the potential to be one of the city's defining spaces.

Most of the state's political leaders agree that a single-purpose trust should be created to plan and operate the Greenway. This makes a lot of sense. As MIT professor William Porter remarked at a dinner of business leaders hosted by State Street Bank last week, the surface corridor should be handled by city builders, not road builders.

But the trust has not yet been created. So on Friday, the Turnpike Authority chairman, Matthew Amorello, sent out a request for bids to carry out the final design of this crucial strip. The move provoked a chorus of objections from Governor Swift's chief of staff, Stephen Crosby; Boston Redevelopment Authority Director Mark Maloney; and Representative Joseph Sullivan, chairman of the Legislature's Transportation Committee. All had urged Amorello to hold off, since negotiations are underway - though, unfortunately, secretly -- to write legislation that would create the trust.

In truth, it would have made sense for Amorello to hold off for a few weeks -- the Legislature ends its session on July 31.

But Amorello has a point when he notes that the trust, though talked about for years, is still a phantom. And he adds that the Turnpike Authority has been responsible for some widely praised design work, most notably the Leonard P. Zakim Bunker Hill Bridge. He says his goal is for a surface artery design that is "absolutely first-class - world-class."

Amorello's impatience may create some problems. He says he will turn over the design role if the Legislature tells him to, but the designer selection process might have to be restarted and strengthened, potentially frustrating some bidders.

The answer to this problem is for political leaders to put their ideas for a trust out for public review and then move promptly to a resolution. Some difficult issues are involved, including the makeup of the board of directors and the sources of financing, but these existed in January 1998, when a planning report recommended that the new entity be created within three months.

The controversy will add immediacy to the Beyond the Big Dig public forum convened by the Globe, MIT, and WCVB-TV at Faneuil Hall Thursday night.

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