The Big Dig

Over its more than 40 year journey from conception to completion, Boston’s Big Dig massive infrastructure project, which rerouted the central highway in the heart of the city, encountered every hurdle imaginable: ruthless politics, engineering challenges, secretive contractors, outright fraud and even the death of one motorist. It became a kind of poster child for big government ‘boondoggles.’ But the full story is of course much more complicated – and really represents a turning point in how America builds infrastructure.

For much of the 20th century public works projects were viewed as an unalloyed good. Our capacity to build big things was a point of American pride and something both political parties could agree on. But as we learned more about the neighborhoods ruined, the lives affected, the graft taken, the costs overruns, and the environmental damage – all of which were being discussed more widely during an ascending movement toward privatization and small government– we got much more cynical, and public works became just like everything else.

If you’ve ever had the question I’ve had: can the United States still build big things? The story of the Big Dig in Boston has many of the answers- a project that had a raft of very public problems, but ultimately delivered on its promises. Today we’re presenting the first episode in a series that offers a true inside account of one of the most complicated and expensive public works projects in American history. It’s a remarkable roller coaster ride of a documentary, produced by GBH in Boston and reported and hosted by Ian Coss.

More about the podcast: “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 Boston’s Big Dig.

Infamous for its ever-increasing price tag, this massive highway tunneling effort became a symbol of waste and corruption. Yet the project delivered on its promise to transform the city. So how did the narrative go so horribly wrong? And what lessons can the Big Dig offer for the ambitious projects of today.

 This nine-episode series, produced by GBH News and hosted by Ian Coss, will be released weekly, beginning September 27th. Listen to a preview below and subscribe on your favorite podcast platform.” Click here to listen.

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