In what started as an effort to streamline traffic in downtown Boston'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.
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.
In the five years since the completion of the project, the City of Boston has been looking to heal and move on from the estimated $22 billion headache. A major step forward will be the $250 million Jackson Square redevelopment underway in the City’s downtown area.
The Jackson Square Redevelopment Initiative
With planning finalized in 2006, the Jackson Square redevelopment will provide mixed-income housing, retail shops, community facilities and open spaces, aiming to reconnect Jamaica Plain and Roxbury. The project will consist of 14 buildings, and was developed through over 10 years of community planning by the Jackson Square Partners, a group of three nonprofits heading up the Initiative. A spokesman for one of the partners, the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corporation, says the project aims to run the area “into a vibrant, healthy place with hundreds of new homes at a wide range of affordability, new green space, new retail and office space, new programs for youth and families, and new recreational opportunities."
225 Centre St., an integral part of the Initiative, recently broke ground. The project consists of 103 rental housing units with 16,000 square feet of retail space, at an estimated cost of $50 million. The developments are for the region adjacent to the Jackson Square MBTA station, and will provide mixed-income, mixed-use, transit oriented buildings.
“We are very proud to be developing 225 Centre at Jackson Square,” said development team member Bart Mitchell in a release. “Jackson Square was torn apart 40 years ago by land takings for an ill-designed highway expansion that was thankfully stopped by citizen action. The new Orange Line subway and wonderful Southwest Corridor park were built instead. We are proud to be working with Jackson Square Partners to re-establish Jackson Square as the vibrant mixed-use neighborhood center it once was and will be again.”
A Model for Community Redevelopment
The Jackson Square Redevelopment Initiative is an attractive template for other aging cities across the United States looking to revitalize economically depressed areas. For Boston, the project is symbolic of the City’s effort to move beyond the mistakes and high costs of the problem-plagued Big Dig project, and invest for a new generation of growth and economic progress.