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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.


Big Dig is ramping down the Central Artery

By Mac Daniel, Globe Staff, 9/22/2002

The beginning of the end is at hand. On the north side of the FleetCenter, quietly, the Central Artery is coming down, and Kirk Elwell is about as happy as a Big Dig supervisor can be.

The deconstruction has been happening since spring, but the dismantling of the old double-decker Storrow Drive on- and off-ramps is the first time those of us motoring on the dinosaur can see the end results. Say goodbye today and tomorrow, for in about 24 hours, Elwell promises us it'll all be gone.

Part of us wants to wax nostalgic about all this, even though we're originally from Philadelphia.

Our sappy soul wants to wallow in how strange it is to see the ramp on which we once cut people off coming down. It's akin to those few weeks back in 1998 when the Boston Garden's demolition left the building half open and gasping for air before it became a parking lot.

Then we wake up. And we soberly say: good riddance.

Goodbye to all you turkeys that used the Storrow Drive exit-only lane to get that all-important two-car jump on Interstate 93 southbound traffic. Goodbye to that stupid hairpin turn that sent drivers skittering into merging Tobin Bridge traffic getting on to I-93 north. See ya later. And don't forget to close the door on your way out.

Still, we turned to Elwell, lead field engineer for the Leonard P. Zakim-Bunker Hill Bridge project, last week hoping to find something redeeming in the old spans. Notes from construction workers? Lost items by the roadside? Reminders of a way of life gone by?

Nope, he said, nothing.

Find anything cool?


Nothing, really?

Nope. Just some asbestos-laden boards imbedded in the thin sidewalks leading from I-93 south into Storrow and from Storrow to I-93 north, a find akin to conducting an archeological dig and only uncovering a Mountain Dew can with a cigarette butt inside.

Nostalgia? Bah. In the end, the double-decker spans are simply this -- 600 tons of steel bolted together by civil engineers who did not take one iota of risk in building something they no doubt believed in their heart of hearts would last a lifetime. And they were, and are, ugly. So ugly.

''The one thing about civil engineers -- they're chicken,'' Elwell said. ''They don't design anything near the envelope. Always plenty of safety factor.''

There's a sense of jubilation at the work site these days, mostly because this small but significant demolition project is nearing completion, but also because -- knock on steel -- it's thus far been easier than expected, except for that piece of brick that hit a car's hood on the first night of deconstruction. No big deal. ''These things happen,'' Elwell said.

There have been few complaints from nearby neighbors. Observers have said that the project has been going on so long now that construction crews have become expert in keeping noise to a minimum, at times.

The crews had to strip away lead paint from where any steel was being cut, work that occurred in July. Once the asbestos in the sidewalks was cleaned up and carted safely away, the steel was slowly dismantled.

The last of it will be carted off to a scrap yard in Everett, and the old (super old) running joke here is that new Toyotas will soon be arriving on Boston's shores wrapped in local steel. Some joke that new Toyota colors will include a glossy ''artery green.'' Ha ha.

''It's gotten to the boring point now,'' said Elwell. ''It's gone as anticipated, a little ahead of schedule now.''

He had worried before the project began that, when workers started banging away, pieces of the span elsewhere would topple or crack. Nope.

''People have this vision of the old artery as this decrepit, old, rusting beast,'' he said. ''But it's a lot more structurally competent than I think people give it credit for.''

As he and the contractors look down over the still-working Central Artery below, the Zakim to their left and the connection to the new tunnels to their right, it's exciting. Elwell says he can see the final product in his mind's eye, and it's amazing.

But as for those of us down below, ''I don't think people even know what's going on.'' The majority of folks, he said, are too busy reading their newspapers -- behind the wheel. ''I don't know how they do it without clobbering the guy in front of them,'' said Elwell.

''Part of the enjoyment is like seeing where you're going to be,'' he said. ''We're working and waiting now. And when this whole package is all done, it can not only improve traffic in this area, but aesthetics as well. I can't wait.''

Boss on the bridge?

Bruce Springsteen on the bridge? It could happen.

Beginning on Oct. 4, a series of events will lead up to the second and final public open house on the Leonard P. Zakim-Bunker Hill Bridge, which is set to open to traffic on Dec. 10. After Oct. 6, the next time you walk on this span, it will be because you have a flat tire.

Several key events are leading up to the walk. At 8 a.m. on Oct. 4, a ''Youth Congress'' and march to Charlestown will take place, allowing about 1,000 high school students to learn about both the Battle of Bunker Hill and Zakim's work fighting racial and ethnic hatred through the New England chapter of the Anti-Defamation League. Zakim died of bone cancer in 1999.

At 9 a.m. that same day, there will be a nondenominational prayer service at St. Francis de Sales Church, at 313 Bunker Hill St. in Charlestown. And at 12:15 p.m., several local, state, and national politicians, including Senators John F. Kerry and Edward M. Kennedy, will officially dedicate the bridge.

Here, maybe, is where The Boss shows up. Zakim was a huge Springsteen fan and got to meet him shortly before he died. Springsteen, who also admired Zakim, is playing a show that night at the Fleet Center and has at times dedicated songs to him.

Problem is, we're told Bruce won't perform. He's just going to stand there during the dedication ceremony, maybe say a word or two, sans guitar. We think Lenny would have been disappointed. Heck, we'll be disappointed.

Finally, beginning at 11 a.m. and stretching to 4 p.m. on Oct. 6, the bridge will open to the walking public. The last time this happened, on Mother's Day, an estimated 200,000 showed up. Back then, terrible weather, a Celtics playoff game, and some shoddy advance planning made for a mess. We hope things will go better this time. Be nice to each other and pray for sun and a breeze off the water.

'Take Me Over'

If Bruce does not give us a song, we can always turn to Suzanne Niles Scheniman, who has issued a very nice and, um, saccharine-sweet CD entitled ''Zakey Take Me Over,'' which is an epic song in celebration of the bridge.

She has sent the song to the Big Dig folks, but hasn't heard anything back. We think it might have something to do with the use of the word ''Zakey.''

A sample lyric:

''A bridge apart, from the start she wore the Zakim name
But how could things so different share a spirit quite the same?
Well, Lenny built his bridges from the bonds of human hearts
Strong as bundled cables, tons of steel and concrete parts.''

We tried the Web page for Scheniman (www.songwaves.com), but it's still under construction.

Pit stops

The MBTA will hold a public meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 8, to summarize responses to the Citizen's Advisory Committee's (CAC) comments on the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) alternatives for the Urban Ring. The status of the traffic and environmental analysis will be discussed, as will the Chelsea abandoned railroad right-of-way. The Urban Ring is geared to connect every T trolley, subway, and commuter rail line outside Boston, helping to reduce transit travel time and subway crowding. The meeting will take place from 4 to 6 p.m. in rooms 2 and 3 on the second floor of the State Transportation Building, 10 Park Plaza, Boston. Take the Green Line to Boylston or the Orange Line to Chinatown.

Can't get there ...

T he South Street on-ramp to I-93 north will be closed from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. Monday through Saturday morning. These closures are expected to continue until Oct. 18.

The Surface Artery south between East India Row and Oliver Street will be closed from 10 p.m. Friday until 5:30 a.m. on Sept. 30. Access to the parking garage at International Place will be maintained at all times from High Street. To maintain local access, Purchase Street will temporarily become a two-way street between Oliver and Congress streets.

Exit 25 (North Station) off I-93 south will be closed from 10 p.m. Friday until 5 a.m. Monday. Drivers headed to the Haymarket area should take Exit 24 to the Callahan Tunnel and North Street and follow the posted detour signs to Congress Street.

The Massachusetts Turnpike (I-90) eastbound between Exit 22 (Copley Square) and I-93 will be closed from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. from Monday through Saturday morning.

The Route 1A southbound exit to Logan Airport will be shifted from a right-side

exit to a left-side exit at 6 a.m. on Saturday. Drivers headed to Logan Airport must now use the left lanes to exit to the airport.

Exit 22 (South Station) off I-93 south will be closed from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. Monday through Saturday morning.

The Gilmore Bridge will be closed from 11 p.m Friday to 5 a.m. Saturday. Pedestrian access will be maintained across the bridge.

We answer as many inquiries each week as space allows. Please, no phone calls. You can reach us by e-mail at starts@globe.com. The column is also on Globe Online, which can be found at www.boston.com/globe/metro/startsandstops. Our mailing address is Starts & Stops, P.O. Box 2378, Boston, MA 02107-2378.

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