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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.


Big Dig targets


BIG DIG OFFICIALS say that two major elements of the project will open later than they have been predicting but earlier than the pessimistic prediction of a state consultant.

They should make every effort to be open and on target when they come out with a new timetable next week. A few weeks' delay will be justified if it results in a highway system that is solidly constructed.

The Central Artery had publicized an opening date of Nov. 8 for the linkup of the Massachusetts Turnpike and the Ted Williams Tunnel and an opening of Dec. 10 for the northbound lanes of the underground artery. In each case officials added six weeks of wiggle room, and they continue to say that the targets might be met.

The consultant, Deloitte & Touche, in a report for the secretary of administration and finance, contends that the tunnel link will not open until Jan. 16, 2003, and the new northbound artery will not be in use until March 5.

Motorists who use the clogged existing highway will be disappointed by any delay, but most will no doubt recall that in the history of this project, a delay of a few weeks is a mere blip. Twelve years ago, when the project received all the permits necessary to allow construction, the expectation was that every bit of work would be completed by the end of 1998.

Political disputes, design changes, and unexpected construction problems are causing the project to extend five years into the new millennium and the cost to balloon from $5 billion to $14.625 billion. The good news from the Deloitte & Touche report is that as far as the consultants can determine, the $14.625 billion figure is holding steady.

The report is replete with caveats about costs. Artery officials are on an aggressive schedule, it says, and "contractors are not totally committed to schedule revisions." Moreover, it says, "contingencies for severe weather or labor shortages were not included."

Nonetheless, the consultants found that the artery staff's estimate of increases in contract costs is on target. There should be enough money to pay these without going over budget. And settlements to contractors who deserve more money because of design changes or unforeseen problems are actually running below budgeted amounts. These findings offer hope that major cost increases in the overall budget can be avoided.

Much can happen between now and the "substantial completion" date of Feb. 8, 2005 -- an artery staff projection that is also sure to change. Yet the turnout for the public walk-through of the northbound artery last month suggests that this project transcends overruns and delays. Most people in and around Boston are excited about improved traffic flow and the removal of the ugly elevated artery. Big Dig officials should be candid with the public about schedules and budgets. If the new highway works well, delays of a few weeks will be quickly forgotten.

Copyright 2002 The New York Times Company
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