I Don't Dig It! (Long!)

A friend, from out of state, recently asked me if Boston’s infamous Big Dig project was completed. This was in an email, and I neglected to answer the question, at the time, being more intent on addressing some other issues. But, it got me thinking about it, and I thought maybe I’d share it with the whole bored (not a typo).

So, the answer to the question of whether the Big Dig is complete, or not, is of course…BAHAHAHAHAHAHA! Or, to put it in terms that folks from outside Massachusetts might understand better, “You’re kidding, right? Kill the ultimate Golden Goose?” I mean, this is the project that, last time I heard, had cost overruns of more than 22 billion dollars. Yes, that’s Billion. With a B. For a project projected to cost 4 billion.

Not that we haven’t gotten our money’s worth! Oh, no! Heck, we’ve got the the world’s biggest public hole in the ground. We’ve got the Liberty Tunnel! (Which has been open for about three weeks, and has already suffered half a million dollars worth of damage from an unlicensed Brazilian illegal immigrant behind the wheel of a truck he clearly didn’t know how to drive.) We’ve got the Ted Williams Tunnel! Which we’re now allowed to use, even if we’re not driving a taxi or a truck. And, we only had to wait about a year for that privilege.

And, to cap it all off…and I’m sure other cities are just green with envy, over this…we’ve got the Leonard P Zakim Memorial Bunker Hill Bridge! A bridge which, while admittedly pretty cool looking, is shorter than its name, and was declared structurally unsound the day it was “completed”. Besides, I’m pretty sure no other bridge in history has ever been dedicated and rededicated as many time as “the Zake”. I may have lost track, but I’m sure there were at least seven separate dedications; one including Bruce Springsteen. They also light it up at night, so it looks “real purty”.

Don’t feel badly about missing out on such a magnificent opportunity to be financially raped, though. You lucky people! The Federal gooberment hired the same General Contractor to handle the rebuilding of Iraq! Yes, the same geniuses who somehow overlooked the fact that the Fleet Center was standing right where their plans called for the Zake to end. So, never fear. Now that they’ve got a whole country to work with, I’m sure the overruns will make ours look like peanuts. And, we’ll all get to share in that joy.

But, one thing you can’t share in, without visiting Boston (And, I’m not encouraging you to do so. We hate toursists, here. Don’t fall for those ad campaigns.), is the wonderful rearrangement of the surface streets. Of course, you, as a tourist (Did I mention we don’t like tourists?), would have no way of knowing that the streets have been rearranged. It’s not like those useless free maps, that all tourists seem to have, were anything like accurate, even before they started this rearranging crap.

No, to truly appreciate the diabolical lunacy of this grand scheme, you have to have been familiar with Boston’s streets back when they made some kind of sense. Well, at least they made sense in a “just follow the wandering cow, and call that a street” sort of way. Which, I kid you not, is how half the streets in Boston actually came to be. The other half were apparently routed around obstacles that no longer exist.

But, to give you an example, I work in what’s called, sensibly enough, the South Station area. This is due to the fact that South Station happens to be in the area. We have two primary train stations; North and South. What we do not have is a way to get from one to the other. But, that’s another story. South Station is a railroad terminal, the primary bus terminal for the whole city, and a subway station.

The bus terminal is part of the whole Big Dig project, so it’s new, and it looks lovely, from the outside. I may never find out what it looks like, inside, though. I guess someone decided there were enough ways to get there, already, so they eliminated any place where a car might pull over to let people out. So they could take a bus. Or a train.

So, here in the South Station area, there is a little corner of the city which was cut off from the rest by the building of the Surface Artery and the Turnpike. The Surface Artery is a major thoroughfare which parallels the Expressway tunnels just beneath it. In this little corner, there are three main streets, which run North/South. One, Atlantic Ave (And, yes, you can see the Atlantic, from Atlantic Ave, if you have a tall enough SUV. And, you’re in the right 100 yards of its two mile length. And, you’re generous enough to consider Boston Harbor the ocean. But, not from South Station), which is the street the bus terminal is on, used to be open to two-way traffic. Then they closed traffic in one direction, making it a one-way street. Then they decided to make it run the other way. Still one way, though. The other two streets in the area have both been one way as long as I can recall. But, they both were flipped around, as well, so that they now run opposite the way they ran for at least thirty years.

They’ve also redesigned the intersection where I need to cross the Surface Artery, to get to my office from the bus stop (which has also moved several times, in the last few months). No, my bus doesn’t stop at the bus terminal. My bus is an icky MBTA bus; the terminal is for pretty Greyhound, Trailways, and Peter Pan buses.

The intersection I have to cross is one of the worst in the city. I know of three times, in the past year and a half, when people were struck by cars, and seriously injured, as they were crossing. One of them was a friend of mine, from work. And, that was before they screwed it up.

Now, instead of being able to cross at more or less a ninety degree angle to the oncoming traffic, one of those flip-flopped streets disgorges cars almost directly behind you, thanks to the redesigned sidewalks. Not to mention the cars that come shooting up from out of the tunnel, about thirty yards away, or, well within skidding distance. From a direction that it was never possible for cars to come from, previously.

But, please…don’t take my word for it. Come see for yourselves. I was just kidding before. We loooove tourists! And, be sure to take the walking tour of the South Station area.

Ugh. Sounds like fun, Davebear. Almost makes me consider not screaming the next time I’m stuck on the Long Island Expressway (about which there is nothing that’s “express”, I assure you. Why d’ya think they call it “The Big LIE” & “The World’s Biggest Parking Lot”?).

My favorite part about the Big Dig project is how driving in Boston (which was harrowing before) became an epic adventure of Tolkienesque proportions. Streets being rerouted! Two ways becoming one ways! One ways becoming two ways!

I used to drive to the city twice a week, on Thursdays and Sundays, when I was in college, and there were weeks where the route would change in the 3 days between my trips.

Never a dull moment in Beantown.

Ah! Well, there’s the real kicker, you see. Because, despite all the time, money, and aggravation that have been poured into this giant hole, I have yet to hear anyone say their commute has improved due to it. Which, we are told, is the purpose of said exercise in futility.

Indeed! And, that’s without even really getting into how on-and-off ramps have been coming and going. For instance, when I mentioned the cars shooting out of the tunnel? That used to be an onramp, for cars headed north. Now, it’s an offramp, for cars headed south.

As a fellow Bostonian, this cracked me up.

I live near the airport. A friend of mine who lives in the suburbs wanted to come visit me, but we were having trouble scheduling the visit. Every time we thought we were going to have said visit, I had to give her slightly different directions. The last time she called, I thought for a minute and said, “You know what? Let me come to your house.”

Heh! Yeah, that sounds about right.

I figured Bostonians who stumbled across this would get a kick out of it. Apparently, not many have, though.

Yeah Dave I have a friend who has a 3 year old Beamer and has had to have suspension work done on it twice in the last two years. The last time, the entire axle had to be replaced. Usually BMW makes a preety decently suspended vehicle…Boston must be pretty ridiculous to drive in. Stick to public trans!

Thanks for the laugh, Davebear. Amazingly enough, I still want to move back to Boston at some point in my life. Last time I was in Somerville, so I was lucky enough to be away from all the excitement. That was also 2+ years ago, back when the dig was just beginning (I think) to go over budget. Good times.

Can you still get on Rte. 1 going north right out of the airport without encountering that hellhole? I am flying in in July on my way to Maine?

crosses fingers…

Yeah, potholes are a way of life, around here. I’ve never actually damaged a car by hitting one, but I think I’ve been lucky. About four years ago, I got to work and learned from a coworker that a chunk of a bridge had dropped out, into the river below it. The chunk was roughly the size of a car. I figured out, later, from all the news reports, that I’d crossed that now-missing patch of pavement about twenty minutes before it gave way.

Somerville is a pretty cool place, these days. It still has the highest population density in the state (last time I checked), but there’s a lot of culture moving into Somerville, lately.

Lamar, I’m pretty sure you can still get to Rte 1 from the airport, easily enough, although Lorene would probably have more up to date info on that. But, why are you not flying to Maine? It’s still a couple hours drive, even if you’re only going to Portland.