There is a cynicism that hangs over the topic of American infrastructure – whether it’s high-speed rail or off-shore wind – it feels like this country can’t build big things anymore. No one project embodies that cynicism quite like what Bostonians call ‘The Big Dig.’ Infamous for its ever-increasing price tag, this massive highway tunneling effort was once ridiculed as the Big Mess, the Big Hole, the Big Pig, the Big Lie. But now, decades later the story looks more complicated. So how did the narrative around this project go so horribly wrong? And what lessons can it offer for the ambitious projects of today? The nine episode series is produced by GBH News and hosted by Ian Coss.
Part 1: We Were Wrong
There is a strange irony behind the Big Dig: the most expensive highway project ever built in America began with a man who hated highways. This is the story of Fred Salvucci’s journey into activism, during what is perhaps the most transformative anti-highway movement in the nation’s history.
Host and scriptwriter: Ian Coss
Executive Producer: Devin Maverick Robins
Producers: Isabel Hibbard and Ian Coss
Editor: Lacy Roberts
Editorial Advisor: Stephanie Leydon
Fact Checker: Lisa Wardle
Scoring and Music Supervision: Ian Coss
Project Manager: Meiqian He
Part 2: Unholy Alliance
In the early 1970s a radical idea took shape: tearing down Boston’s elevated downtown highway, and rebuilding it underground. But making it happen will require a grand bargain between two competing tunnel projects, and between bitter enemies.
Part 3: All Politics is Local
The Big Dig needs federal funding. House Speaker Tip O’Neill is determined to get it; President Ronald Reagan is determined to stop it – setting up a final showdown in one of the great political rivalries of the 20th century.
Part 4: The Double Cross
The project faces an unexpected challenge on the home front: resistance from local environmentalists and residents – the very people the Big Dig was intended to please. Now, they say that Fred Salvucci has lost his way.
Part 5: Hatchet Man vs. the 800 Pound Gorilla
In 1991, the Big Dig is handed off to a new leader – the brash, aggressive, hatchet-toting Jim Kerasiotes – who makes it clear he plans to shake things up. The one thing he can’t shake is the equally aggressive private company managing the project. Now they have to work together.
Part 6: The Up Down Charts
As work progresses through the 1990s and the tunnels take shape, the true cost of the Big Dig remains unknown to the public, until a series of revelations pulls down the curtain and shakes confidence in the whole project.
I lived through the entire process, and being in the public construction industry, followed every twist and turn. The podcast took me behind the scenes to a depth only outstanding research could deliver. A fabulous story for everyone, but especially for Bostonians.
I wish there were more like this
I really enjoyed listening to this! Well reported, thorough, balanced, and keeps you listening. Thank you for making this.
Sending a link to my engineering friends
Absolutely binge-worthy. I like that this podcast really dug into (ahem) the politics while not forgetting the engineering and construction crews. I know several people who have managed very large projects, and the personality traits of the project leads all sound spot on. Fierce, stubborn and visionary. Others have been crew members and the incredible pride they feel as well as the drive to deliver the best is also there. I’m glad these characteristics came through, because if you can’t trust the engineers or construction crews we would all be living in tents and walking everywhere.