Tuesday, December 25, 2007

The Big Dig's Big Day

After 14 years, and $14.8 billion, the Big Dig is finally completed. Five people were killed in the sprawling construction of the Central Artery Tunnel, including Milena Del Valle, who was killed July 2006 when a ceiling panel within the tunnel fell, crushing her to death. Her family settled with the company that produced the defective epoxy fastener, Powers Fasteners, for $6 million. Manslaughter charges are still pending against the company, along with Parsons Brinkenhoff and Betchel, who were the primary contractors on the project.
Officially, Dec. 31 marks the end of the joint venture that teamed megaproject contractor Bechtel/Parsons Brinckerhoff with the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority to build the dizzying array of underground highways, bridges, ramps and a new tunnel under Boston Harbor — all while the city remained open for business.

The project was so complex it's been likened to performing open heart surgery on a patient while the patient is wide awake.

Some didn't know if they'd live to see it end.

Enza Merola had a front row seat on the Big Dig from the front window of her pastry shop — stacked neatly with tiramisu, sfogliatelle and brightly colored Italian cookies — in Boston's North End.

During the toughest days of the project, the facade of Marie's Pastry Shop, named after her sister, was obscured from view. The only way customers could find the front door was along a treacherous path through heavy construction.

"For a while we thought we weren't going to make it," Merola said. "But you know, we hung in there."

The Central Artery/Third Harbor Tunnel Project — as the Big Dig is officially known — has its roots in the construction of the hulking 1950's era elevated Central Artery that cut a swath through the center of Boston, lopping off the waterfront from downtown and casting a shadow over some of the city's oldest neighborhoods.

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