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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.

Swift, Finneran promise action on Big Dig land

By Thomas C. Palmer Jr., Globe Staff, 6/27/2002

After three months of failed attempts to create a trust to govern the new downtown Boston Surface Artery, Acting Governor Jane M. Swift and House Speaker Thomas M. Finneran testified yesterday that they will do everything possible to get a law passed by July 31, the end of the legislative session.

''I think we're close to completing final legislation,'' Swift said during a four-hour hearing before the Legislature's Joint Transportation Committee, called in an attempt to restart the sputtering effort.

''I think we can do it,'' Finneran said, endorsing a suggestion by Representative Paul C. Demakis, a Boston Democrat, that a draft be made public by July 10. ''It will be a challenge.''

A trust is needed to oversee the design of about 30 acres that will be created over a new sunken highway when the Big Dig ends and the elevated Central Artery is dismantled. That's supposed to happen in 2005. The new organization would also oversee use of the land, as well as maintenance, and coordinate a handful of development parcels.

The environmental certificate for the Big Dig, issued 12 years ago, specified that 75 percent of the reclaimed land would be open space.

The trust, endorsed in principle in March by Finneran, Swift, and Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino, is considered by many to be a necessity if the public is to enjoy the parks and other amenities the state promised when it undertook the Big Dig.

If a law creating the new organization is not passed until next year, timely development of the space - along Atlantic Avenue from Causeway to Kneeland streets - would be endangered.

The open space was supposed to be completed in conjunction with the new highway system, but more than a decade of debate has not yet yielded an acceptable design.

That raises the possibility that when construction ends in 2005, on what's officially known as the Central Artery/Ted Williams Tunnel project, there will be no parks ready to use.

''That would be the worst of all possible outcomes,'' Finneran said.

Besides pledging to expedite the creation of a governing body, state officials and others involved in planning for the Surface Artery agreed yesterday - for the first time - that businesses should not be the only source of funds for maintenance.

Menino and Finneran earlier had proposed a tax on downtown businesses to generate an estimated $5 million a year to maintain the parks.

The Boston Redevelopment Authority's director, Mark Maloney, said the city is sticking by that plan, but others said they would prefer a public-private partnership to fund the trust's operations.

Representative Joseph C. Sullivan, cochairman of the committee, called it a ''balanced money approach - I think that's a crucial aspect.''

Rob Tuchmann, cochairman of the Mayor's Surface Artery Task Force, agreed. With a tax alone, he said, ''The entire burden would fall on the business community. We don't think that's fair.''

Until a governing trust is created, the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority will continue to be in charge. Turnpike chairman Matthew Amorello, who has angered Swift's aides by pushing ahead with the design process, yesterday said that he would put things on hold until the end of July, to give legislators a chance to set up the trust.

Many members of the mayor's task force, who feel left out of the process after years of hard work planning for the post-Big Dig period, don't want any more delays.

Internal strife at the turnpike could work against them, however. An item placed on the agenda for tomorrow's board meeting by board member Christy Mihos involves withdrawing the requests for design ideas that Amorello had issued for some portions of the Surface Artery.

Swift said the source of money to maintain the Surface Artery is the biggest stumbling block to getting a law passed.

Also still at issue is the membership of the proposed five-person board of trustees. Initially, two were to be appointed by the governor, one by the mayor, and one each by the House speaker and Senate president.

But Maloney said business and environmental leaders made the case that they should be represented, too. He said it is likely the board of trustees could be expanded to seven members.

Thomas C. Palmer Jr. can be reached at tpalmer@globe.com.

Copyright 2002 The New York Times Company
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