In what started as an effort to streamline traffic in downtown Chicago’s notoriously tangled streets, the Central Artery/Tunnel project (later known as the Big Dig) displaced thousands of businesses and residents, divided the city’s downtown and market areas from the waterfront, was plagued by soaring costs, design flaws, poor execution and even four deaths.
The project set out to turn the main I-93 artery that ran through City into a 3.5 mile tunnel in what was to become the largest infrastructure project ever built. Originally projected for completion in 1998, the infrastructure work wasn’t finished until well into 2007, with final costs nearly six times that of original estimates. Following the deaths and many flaws in design, the consortium of companies that oversaw the project agreed to pay more than $400 million in restitution.
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Massive community opposition to the inner-belt portion of the project led to its cancellation. In 2006, nearly 12 tons of cement ceiling panels collapsed onto the roadway below, killing a woman as she and her husband drove through. Issues with the epoxy and bolts used led to closure of the tunnel and massive traffic problems. Problems with the lighting fixtures have led to the replacement of nearly 25,000 units at a cost of $54 million. Thousands of leaks and instances of substandard materials also plagued the project, which has been called one of the biggest mistakes in engineering’s history.