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forget your shovel! Irish dig in Boston
by Imelda and Francis Murphy
the generations, Bostons topography has repeatedly been altered
as its inhabitants expanded the Shawmut Peninsula - the spit of
land the Pilgrims found - to make Boston a hub of commerce and finance.
The process continues today as the Central Artery Tunnel, AKA The
Big Dig continues apace, using the engineering skills and
the labour of the Irish and the Irish American.
a traffic nightmare, Bostons road infrastructure has been described
as one of the most neglected in the US. The elevated six-lane highway
that runs through the centre of the city, the Central Artery was
opened in 1959 to carry 75,000 cars a day. It now carries 190,000
per day. It has an accident rate that is four times the national
average for urban Interstates, and is subject to traffic jams about
16 hours a day. Similar problems exist in the two tunnels under
the late 1980s, City fathers dreamt up a new solution to a growing
problem. Boston had not received its share of federal monies, when
the highway system was built in the 1950/60's connecting Americas
cities and airports, it was argued. No interstate highway linked
Boston and Logan Airport. With the support of powerful Irish American
politicians Ted Kennedy and Thomas Tip ONeill, and with the eventual
prospect of money from Washington- the plan to put the traffic underground
in tunnels was adopted.
The enormous challenge was to keep the city working with the auto
and train traffic flowing on the old system while the new tunnels
were constructed under the streets of Boston. At points, the tunnels
would traverse over, then under, existing subway lines (the oldest
in America), as well as sewerage and utility lines, many unmapped
and thus being revealed only upon excavation.
commonly analogise the challenge to performing heart surgery without
anaesthesia on an individual who is expected to remain fully functional
during the 10-year procedure.
1991, the first phase of the project started with the construction
of a new harbour tunnel connecting Interstate 90 - the Mass Pike-
to Logan Airport on the far side of Boston Harbor, but the year
2000 represents the height of activity with the construction nearly
two-thirds finished and an eye to completion in 2004.
Massachusetts Turnpike Authority relies on Bechtel/Parsons Brinkerhoff
Corp. to manage the project, and co-ordinate work through scores
of subcontractors, such as Perini-Kiewit and Cashman, Modern Continental
Construction Company and Slattery-White to name a few.
year alone, approximately 6000 workers have been employed to create
underground highways and the new cable stayed bridge that crosses
the Charles River that will deliver traffic to and from the 3.5
miles of tunnels beneath Boston. The bulk of the employees are members
of one of the 25 plus labour unions engaged on the project, and
their prime employer is the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority, the
body with overall responsibility for the $14 Billion project.
Irish workers are engaged in every phase of the construction, working
as architects, engineers, publicists, tradesmen and labourers. They
bring a sophistication and dedication befitting the most complex
and expensive highway project ever undertaken.
ONeill, from Ennis, Co. Clare, is now press officer for the
MTA. He came to The Big Dig first with Bechtel. ONeill helps
disperse information to the public, including over the MTA website,
and arranges visits from politicians, foreign dignitaries and engineering
luminaries, who come to observe the amazement that is unfolding.
engineers, this is Broadway, and for everyone else involved its
a piece of history they will look back with pride once it is over,
Sean says. Sean also proudly reports that the majority of the international
technical inquiries he gets via the MTA website are from Irish engineering