Reflections on the Big Dig
Frederick P. Salvucci, '61, SM '62, Senior Lecturer, Center for Transportation and Logistics, MIT
Description: Sometimes good projects go bad, and other times, a bad project turns out well. Few people can pass such judgments better than Fred Salvucci, who was a key instigator of Boston's "Big Dig" project. This behemoth of civil engineering, first imagined in the 1970s, involved eliminating a crumbling and congested elevated highway that rammed through the heart of Boston. The new design called for an underground highway that would improve traffic gridlock, at a cost of 6 billion, with an estimated completion date of 2000. Nearing completion in late 2004, the Big Dig's price tag is around $15 billion. What went wrong? Salvucci lays out a cautionary tale for planners: "policy blunders" permitted a four-year delay while people debated the aesthetics of a bridge crossing the Charles River; intelligent transportation technology emerged and had to be added on to the design; and worst, ballooning costs were disguised by deferring items like upkeep. "We may need gondolas because without maintenance, (the highway) may flood," says Salvucci. For a brighter ending, Salvucci cites the Boston Harbor clean up. Faced with a court order, absence of federal funding, and with what Salvucci calls "absurd standards" (those normally applied to rivers used to supply drinking water), the project managed to stay within its $6 billion budget and finish on time. Says Salvucci, "I doubt there's as well implemented a project in the U.S. as what was pulled off with the Boston Harbor clean up."
About the Speaker(s): Frederick Salvucci served as transportation advisor to Boston Mayor Kevin White between 1970 and 1974, and then as Secretary of Transportation of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts under Governor Michael Dukakis between 1975 and 1978 and again from 1983 to 1990. In those roles he has participated in much of the transportation planning and policy formulation in the Boston urbanized area and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts over the past 20 years. More recently, he has participated in a restructuring of commuter and rapid transit services in Buenos Aires, Argentina; helped review the transportation planning process in US metropolitan areas; and worked on the development of a new transit system for San Juan, Puerto Rico. Salvucci received a B.S. and M.S. in Civil Engineering from MIT. He spent a year at the University of Naples as a Fulbright Scholar from 1964 to 1965, studying the use of transportation investment to stimulate economic development in high poverty regions of Southern Italy.
Host(s): School of Engineering, Engineering Systems Division
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