The sun struggles to shine over the Charles River locks, where the river feeds into Boston Harbor. For fifty years, the Central Artery-a hulking, elevated stretch of Interstate 93-cast a shadow over the area. Neighborhoods were razed to make way for the green-painted steel and concrete mammoth when its construction began in 1951. It cut Boston and Charlestown off from their waterfronts, drove businesses away, and could not even handle the traffic it was designed for. Fred Salvucci ‘61, SM ‘62, stands at the water’s edge and watches demolition crews dismantle the old highway. It’s been more than 30 years since he started lobbying to put the highway underground, and nearly 14 years since he served as state secretary of transportation. Now, as the final stages of Boston’s Big Dig reunite the city with its waterfront, Salvucci sees an old wound starting to heal.
Salvucci believed that spending the city’s money on the Central Artery-dubbed “Boston’s other Green Monster”-had been a mistake, and as transportation advisor to Boston’s mayor in the early 1970s, he sought to prevent it from happening again. He attended weekly Boston Transportation Planning Review meetings, where highway builders and antihighway activists were deadlocked over plans to expand the artery. Local highway contractor Bill Reynolds ‘49 felt highways were beautiful and essential, but he thought the Central Artery gave them a bad reputation. After one meeting, Reynolds approached Salvucci with an idea: build a wider highway underground and then scrap the old elevated one. Initially Salvucci thought it was crazy, but gradually he realized it could be done. The resulting Big Dig became the nation’s largest and most expensive highway project, costing a controversial $14.6 billion. Major construction has taken more than 10 years. More than 12 million cubic meters of soil have been excavated and nearly three million cubic meters of concrete have been poured. Without Salvucci’s dedication, many believe the project would have just remained a “crazy idea.”