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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.

More than 800,000 stroll across sun-splashed span

By Peter DeMarco, Globe Correspondent, 10/7/2002

It was the very same Leonard P. Zakim Bunker Hill Bridge that 250,000 people crossed on Mother's Day in the soaking rain. But yesterday's pedestrian preview of the historic cable-stayed span was a sun-splashed romp for more than 800,000 walkers routed by Disney World-style queues.

As Big Dig organizers proved in May, when walkers endured pelting rain and utter chaos to tread on the crown jewel of the $14.65 billion Central Artery/Tunnel project, nothing draws a crowd like a 10-lane steel and concrete expanse with fetching lights.

This time, the line formed on Causeway Street at 6 a.m., fully five hours before the bridge opened to the public. By midday, the waiting line swelled to 15,000.

But unlike Boston traffic, it rarely came to a dead halt. The average wait was 45 minutes, thanks to an elaborate queuing plan, hundreds of police and Artery workers, and nearly five miles of waiting-line ropes.

That it was sunny and nearly 70 didn't hurt, either.

"On Mother's Day, we didn't have anything," said John Strack, who, with other organizers, spent three months preparing for yesterday's walk and the tunnel walk that drew 500,000 in August.

"We thought we would get 75,000 that day, and we had the ability to handle 75,000. We didn't have the ability to handle 500,000," Strack said. "Today, we do."

Most spectators agreed that the fall version of the bridge walk was far superior.

"Everyone was saying we were going to get crushed, but it's been comfortable. Fabulously comfortable," said Catherine Jaggie, 50, a Somerville artist, who arrived at 10:30 a.m. and a half-hour later was strolling across the bridge.

Zakim's family joined Massachusetts Turnpike Authority chairman Matthew Amorello at the front of the line for an official ribbon-cutting ceremony to kick off the festivities. There was just one small problem: After spending $102 million on the bridge, not a pair of scissors could be found.

Thankfully, Joe Landolfi, chief of staff for the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority, came to the rescue, handing Amorello his Swiss Army knife to snip the red, white, and blue ribbon.

The scissors gaffe offered a welcomed light moment after Friday's tearful ceremony honoring Zakim, the kinetic director of the Anti-Defamation League of New England who died of cancer nearly three years ago.

"I'm just looking up to heaven, hoping he's looking down," said Zakim's father, Jerry, as he cast his gaze upward at the 295-foot-high south tower. "The Boston community has just opened its arms up for this bridge. We're so proud."

Yesterday's crowd mirrored the one on Mother's Day: Young couples pushed stollers, while others took their dogs, walked with video-cameras, joined co-workers or friends, or used the walk as a Sunday family outing.

The bridge, which is scheduled to open in December, has graced the Boston skyline for more than a year. But many said they were overwhelmed at its splendor when viewed close up.

"Oh my God -- look at that," Trish Donnelly, 51, a Lowell nurse, cried to her friend as she stood directly under one of the expanse's soaring, cabled-splayed towers. "It's like being under the Eiffel Tower."

"It's nice and solid. Union made," said Jim Quinn, a bagpipe player in the kilt-wearing Bunker Hill Pipe Band, as he stomped his feet on the concrete.

The only negative notes came when police arrested and charged a man with heroin possession. Also, nine people who identified themselves as members of the white supremacist World Church of the Creator picketed the event, holding anti-Semitic signs that protested naming the bridge after Zakim.

But for the majority, the day was all about having fun.

Bridge walkers waved to traffic on adjacent Interstate 93, peppered hard-hatted Big Dig workers with questions, scooped up commemorative hats and T-shirts, and posed for pictures in front of a giant plaque that will be mounted on the bridge.

Some even laid down flat on the pavement to stare up at the 116-cable web as if they were star-gazing.

"We're really in the midst of history here, walking across this bridge," said Beverly White, 40, of Arlington. "Years from now, when there's traffic on the bridge, we can say we had the opportunity to walk over it on Oct. 6."

White's 8-year-old daughter, Ariana, then tugged at her mother's hand, and asked if they could finally go to McDonald's.

"She'll appreciate it once she's older," White said.

Copyright 2002 The New York Times Company
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