US Department of Transportation

FHWA PlanWorks: Better Planning, Better Projects

Project Name: Central Artery/Tunnel
C03 Project ID: 41
Project type: Bundled
State: MA
Topic Supports: Environmental Review Merged with Permitting Application; Stakeholder Collaboration Application

The Central Artery Project, also known as the "Big Dig" replaced a 1.7 mile stretch of highway in the heart of downtown Boston with a tunneled freeway. Planning for the Big Dig began in 1982 to deal with severe traffic congestion on the existing elevated highway built in 1959. The project included a new tunnel to the airport and a new bridge over the Charles River to connect with I-93, thus reducing congestion on the Central Artery. A number of public transit projects were part of the environmental mitigation package, the most extensive of which was the construction of Phase II of the Silver Line, a bus rapid transit line. After years of extensive lobbying for federal dollars and a veto by President Reagan that was subsequently overridden, ground was first broken in 1991. The project faced opposition and several controversies related to specific design features and environmental impacts, finally receiving environmental clearances from the state in 1991 and the federal government in 1994.

The implementation of the project involved unprecedented public participation in both long term planning and day-to-day traffic management decisions. The Central Artery Oversight Committee was formed to oversee the list of 1,200 mitigation measures demanded by a large number of interest groups. Numerous sub-committees were formed to oversee specific issues like clean air, open space, bridge design, transit, traffic improvements, and new parks development. The high-profile Artery Business Committee that comprised major business and property owners in the Central Artery corridor was formed in 1988 to look out for business interests during and after construction. The committee was involved in detailed decisions like the temporary routing of traffic, detours, signage, and screening of construction sites. The Central Artery project staff facilitated weekly meetings of the Artery Business Committee to help resolve political, legal, and financial issues that threatened the project and the businesses in its path. This process served to diffuse conflicts that could have resulted in litigation. The efforts of the Artery Business Committee are considered to have been successful in keeping the traffic moving and in retaining tenants and businesses during the 15 year period spanning the construction phases of the project. Overall, there were high levels of collaboration among several public and private sector partners in the planning and implementation of the Central Artery project. These included the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority, the regional transit agency (MBTA), Massport, Bechtel/Parsons Brinckerhoff as the design and construction contractors, the state DOT, the FHWA, and local communities and interest groups.