NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Success or Failure of Boston's "Big Dig" Being Watched Closely

January 20, 2003

A 3 mile section of Boston's 7.8 mile system of underground highways, ramps and bridges -- known as the Big Dig -- has opened. Officials around the country are watching closely to see if the most expensive public works project in the nation's history can justify its $14.6 billion price tag.

Success or failure in Boston will determine the fate of nearly 20 multibillion-dollar highway plans in other cities coast-to-coast.

  • Cost estimates for these proposed projects range from $1 billion to $9 billion each -- but then, as with all such government projects, there is the near certainty of cost overruns.
  • The Big Dig was originally estimated to cost $2.6 billion, but it has already soaked up more than $8.5 billion in federal money.

Projects contemplated for other states face similar hurdles:

  • Congress has become wary of lending support to such huge projects like the Big Dig, which received 60 percent federal funding.
  • Legal challenges by environmentalists and the demand for countless environmental studies greatly increase the costs of these mammoth projects, which often cut directly through urban areas.
  • Voters are in no mood to endure local tax increases to foot the bill for expensive projects -- especially in view of the Big Dig's example of horrendous cost overruns.

Yet federal highway officials contend that some of the proposed projects are needed to replace structures which are sometimes 50 years old and in bad need of rescue or replacement.

Source: Fred Bayles, "Boston Has a Lot More than Cars Riding on the Big Dig," USA Today, January 20, 2003.

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