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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.

Surprise surfaces over naming of Artery Corridor

Commemorates Rose Kennedy

By Raphael Lewis, Globe Staff, 5/23/2001

Toward the end of a ho-hum meeting of the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority board yesterday, the authority's chief operating officer mentioned in passing that all were invited to attend a brief ceremony next Wednesday.

Taking place at 11:30 a.m. in Christopher Columbus Park on the North End waterfront, the ceremony would celebrate the creation of the Rose F. Kennedy Greenway, said J. Richard Capka.

Come again? board members asked.

The Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway, Capka explained, the official name of the 30 most disputed acres in Boston, an area most folks refer to as the Surface Artery.

"This is really news," said Christy Mihos, the board's vice chairman, his jaw dropping, along with those of fellow board members.

As it turns out, precious few people, from the Big Dig's project director to the executive director of the Artery Business Committee to the spokesman for the state transportation secretary, had any idea of the name.

They had reason: The legislation calling for Kennedy's name to adorn the urban corridor was tucked among hundreds of pages of legalese in a state transportation bond bill - in 1996. It's recorded for posterity in Chapter 205, Section 117, of the Acts of 1996.

"None of us knew," said Richard Dimino, head of the Artery Business Committee, which has worked closely with state and local authorities on the design of the land beneath the elevated expressway. "That's a very good place for the Artery to start as a whole. Ted Kennedy has been incredibly helpful to the Central Artery project over the years."

Senator Edward M. Kennedy, who will speak at next Wednesday's ceremony, said through a spokesman that the naming of the greenway for his mother was no surprise to him. He said he was looking forward to the event.

In a city where even small projects spawn big fights on everything from air rights to naming, the ease with which Kennedy won naming rights for the Surface Artery is notable. After all, one look toward the Leonard P. Zakim-Bunker Hill Bridge, another Big Dig creation whose naming triggered controversy among some in Charlestown, offers plenty of evidence of the typical results.

"That's the greatest thing about naming it for Rose Kennedy - it takes it out of play," said state Senator Robert A. Havern III, the chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee. "Now we can get down to the really serious work."

Havern, who cosponsored the nearly unknown legislation, says the idea originated with Thomas Cahir, currently a top assistant to the state transportation secretary, who was then a Barnstable Democrat who chaired the House Transportation Committee.

Cahir said yesterday he got the idea in the months after Rose Kennedy, who was born in the North End, died at age 104. At the time, he said, state leaders like himself were attempting to mollify North End residents and merchants, who would soon have their lives turned upside down by the Big Dig. As a result, he said, Rose Kennedy, the neighborhood's most famous daughter, was a natural fit.

"We talked about it in conference and adopted it," Cahir said. "We had the Republican conferees on the committee and we made some cogent arguments that it was an appropriate name, and they agreed."

The Surface Artery's true name may have remained virtually unknown for five years, but Cahir insisted the legislation was anything but a secret.

"I thought people read bills when they become law," Cahir said. "Governor Weld signed it into law. I remember getting several letters from people congratulating us and saying it was an appropriate name."

Havern, embroiled in the seemingly endless campaign over a design for the Kennedy Greenway, said naming the green ribbon after Rose Kennedy was the easiest thing he's ever done involving the Big Dig and the Surface Artery.

"I even kidded Senator Kennedy about it," Havern said. "I said, `Nobody hates your mother.' "

Ironically, when the Kennedy matriarch's name finally adorns signs on the park in years to come, she will supplant her own father, John F. Fitzgerald, for whom the expressway is currently named.

"She's going to one-up him, and not only that, he's probably up there laughing about it," Havern said. "Down he comes and up she goes. It's a natural progression."

Raphael Lewis can be reached by e-mail at rlewis@globe.com

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