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Beyond The Big Dig
About this project

What happens to the ribbon of land being created by the depression of the Central Artery may be the most important development decision to face Boston in a generation.

Plan advances for park on Big Dig land

By Thomas C. Palmer Jr., Globe Staff, 1/19/2002

The Massachusetts Turnpike Authority next month plans to begin soliciting firms interested in designing parks on 30 acres being reclaimed by the Big Dig, an authority official said yesterday.

In a process that has gone on for a decade, yesterday's annoucement by Fred Yalouris, chief of architecture for the Central Artery/Ted Williams Tunnel project, was good news.

Yalouris told a meeting of the transportation group MoveMass that a so-called request for qualifications is expected to be issued in February for two parkland parcels along the Central Artery corridor in the North End, between Sudbury and North streets.

He cautioned in an interview later that the date could slip again. But barring further delays caused by political turmoil at the Turnpike - as Acting Governor Jane M. Swift attempts to fire two of three authority board members - the stalled process will get back on track, he said.

The planning for open space is separate from, and much further along than, the one for several parcels on the surface that have been designated for development. The turnpike is in charge of development but is working with the Boston Redevelopment Authority.

The selection process is a competition of sorts, with the field to be narrowed to three or four firms by July. The winning company, or perhaps a team, will be selected in September and proceed with design work for about a year and a half, Yalouris said.

"If it actually happens it's good news," said Patrice Todisco, who like many others interested in the new Surface Artery has been dismayed by past delays. "I hope the turnpike authority really does go forward. I'm not 100 percent confident that will happen," said Todisco, executive director of the Boston Greenspace Alliance.

Not everyone is happy with the five-member selection committee that has the task of choosing the final designers for the valuable ribbon of land that will replace the old elevated Central Artery. Continued debate among city and state officials and others could result in additional delay.

The process of bringing top-quality design firms on board was supposed to have begun last fall for all three major open-space areas along the corridor: the North End, the Wharf District, and Chinatown.

Instead, solicitations for designers for the three areas will take place consecutively, Yalouris said. An announcement about the Wharf District will follow February's North End solicitation by about five weeks, he said, and the smaller Chinatown park parcel is expected to be advertised roughly five weeks after that.

The Wharf District is the largest of the three, encompassing five blocks of the corridor, from Christopher Columbus Park to High Street. The Chinatown park is a strip along the west side of Surface Road, south of Dewey Square.

The environmental permits issued when the state won permission to build the new Central Artery called for the parks to be finished with the completion of the underground highway, said Rob Tuchmann, cochairman of the Mayor's Central Artery Completion Task Force.

However, Yalouris said yesterday that the timetable for constructing the parks may stretch beyond Big Dig highway completion in early 2005.

Yalouris said that, after some initial work is done by the design firms, public hearings will begin. Meetings on the North End area are expected to start in October. The final designs for the three park areas are expected to be complete by early 2004, when park construction will get underway.

"The parks will be substantially complete by the end of 2005," Yalouris said. "Some of the planting will probably have to wait till spring '06."

Many issues concerning the surface open space have not yet been resolved, including who will own, maintain, and control it, and where the money will come from.

Thomas C. Palmer Jr. can be reached by e-mail at palmer@globe.com.

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