The “Big” Plan
In the 1980s, city and state officials embraced a plan to bury Interstate 93 under Boston. The Central Artery/Tunnel Project, or the Big Dig, was considered one of the most forward-thinking infrastructure projects of the 20th century. Politicians called the project an engineering marvel, and they believed it could help change downtown Boston for only $2.6 billion in 1985.
As the project reaches its 21st birthday, the view of the project of those paying Massachusetts taxes has changed dramatically. The state spent more than $14.6 billion in state and federal tax dollars. The Big Dig has seen repeated delays, out-of-control costs, leaks in its tunnels, shoddy workmanship and materials, arrests of individuals involved and traffic tie-ups. Then, on July 10, 2006, 12 tons of ceiling panels collapsed, killing 39-year-old Jamaica Plain resident Milena Del Valle. The I-90 connector tunnel where the accident happened has remained closed. Boston traffic since the tragic accident has been a nightmare. The consequences felt by the Massachusetts economy are enormous, especially for the local businesses and the tourism industry as a whole. Roadway access to and from Logan International Airport is now severely restricted.
Mihos Reforms the MTA
It was during the tumultuous late-1990s that businessman and Independent candidate for Massachusetts governor Christy Mihos was appointed to the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority by Gov. William Weld. Christy helped to restore public confidence in the system during his tenure as Vice Chairman and the Turnpike’s director. Christy fought for the citizens of the Commonwealth and advocated against toll increases, fraud, waste and abuse. Even though special interests and Acting Governor Jane Swift attempted to remove him, Christy won his battles against them and the state Supreme Judicial Court ruled in his favor. He was reinstated to his seat on the board.
Christy continued to fight for the public’s interest and brought innovative business ideas to the authority during his term there. He proposed selling off eleven service plazas to pay off the bonds on the western portion of the Massachusetts Turnpike, an idea that was buried in a study by the Board and which he will pursue when elected Governor of Massachusetts. Christy would then remove the tolls from Weston to the New York border.
When newspapers and politicians continued to support the Big Dig throughout the late 1990s and into the next decade, Christy was one of the only people to speak out against it. Christy tried to increase oversight, but other board members and attorneys chastised him and pushed the project forward under its “business as usual” approach. While he tried to inform the public about the problems with The Big Dig, the news media came out against him. Editorials blasted Christy and said he was doing the wrong thing by speaking out against the project.
Mihos Was Right
Later, those same writers apologized to Christy and board member Jordan Levy by admitting that the two public servants were right and the critics were wrong. Christy’s thoughts on the integrity of the project were validated and the state attorney general began to slowly pursue a refund from Bectel/Parsons Brinckerhoff, The Big Dig’s contractor.
Christy’s worst nightmare came true on July 10 when Milena, a newlywed and mother of three children, died during an accident in the I-90 connector tunnel. The project, which cost almost $15 billion, is now the subject of an investigation of which the state government has taken control. It also prompted Christy to announce in July that he will push for an independent investigation of the entire project when he becomes Governor of Massachusetts next year