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A huge hole, a huge amount of money down it

The Big Dig is described as "the biggest engineering project in history." They broke ground in , with initial estimates saying ten years and 2.5 billion dollars.

Well, it's 12 years and 15 billion dollars later, and they're still working on it.

Now that it's almost done, after all that (a huge chunk of the money coming from the federal government (meaning all of us forked over to pay for it)), you'd think that we would have a prize to be proud of, right?

Obviously you're not familiar with the way things work in Massachusetts.

Or, more precisely, how things just don't work in Massachusetts.

There have been leaks, crumblings, and scads of other annoyances. But last night, the Big Dig tasted first blood.

In one of the tunnels, they have a "suspended ceiling" like many homes and offices have. But instead of foam and fluorescent lights, these ceiling tiles are 3-ton slabs of concrete.

Around 11:00 last night, a couple was driving through the tunnel to pick up family members at Logan Airport. One of these slabs broke loose and fell on the car. The husband, driving, was slightly injured, and had to crawl out of a 6"x12" open space.

His wife was not so lucky. She was killed immediately.

So now the critics are feeling fully vindicated, the hacks are in full CYA mode, and the rest of us are wondering WTF happened to all that money we spent.

And if we can make the responsible parties drive through the tunnels every day. In convertibles. Slowly.

Kevin adds: Here's the aftermath picture...



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Comments (31)

Sheesh,$15 billion... (Below threshold)
Starboard Attitude:


$15 billion???

And Ketchican only wanted a few $million to connect the town to its international airport--and the only developable land left for expansion of the city. You know, the bridge to "nowhere."

Let's see: Massachusetts, w... (Below threshold)
Old Coot:

Let's see: Massachusetts, water (over the tunnel), a dead woman. Hmm, has anyone checked to see if Teddy (D-Chivas) is wearing his neck brace again? Just curious.

I guess it's safe to assume... (Below threshold)

I guess it's safe to assume we'll see this one soon on "Seconds from Disaster", not "Modern Marvels"..

Starboard Attitude:<p... (Below threshold)

Starboard Attitude:

Yeah, for a general aviation airport (ignore that "International," it really doesn't mean squat) that has a total of about 600 passengers per day, when they already have a ferry service that works fine for the days when weather permits flying.

cirby,The ferry se... (Below threshold)
Starboard Attitude:


The ferry service sucks. Been there? I have dozens of times. They need a bridge.

I'm not saying you should necessarily pay for it. But all the other states got most of their roads and bridges before Alaska was even a state. If Boston's entitled to their $15 billion tunnel, then decent, affordable, airport access is not outrageous. Alaska is 1/5th the size of the continental US, but has fewer roads and bridges than Rhode Island--a state smaller than many Alaskan cities. The recent backlash over the bridge was way unfair.

First off, Starboard attitu... (Below threshold)

First off, Starboard attitude, love the name, were you navy or merchant marines?

I happen to be the latter and I definitely have a slight list to starboard as well.

and the rest of us are wonding WTF happened to all that money we spent.

Meanwhile, Jay, I thought you lived in "cow" hampshire? How are you paying taxes that pay for the big dig?

Henry, It is/was probably 9... (Below threshold)

Henry, It is/was probably 99% Federal dollar$.
Kind of like y
ou don't really think the folks in WVa ponied up for all those "Robert Byrd Memorial _____" do ye?

Henry,The Starboar... (Below threshold)
Starboard Attitude:


The Starboard Attitude was a blues bar on the Redondo Beach pier where I used to play guitar. The logo was a large sloop with the name on a scroll beneath it.

Since I'm a big fan of sailing and blues guitar, and since I sometimes need a couple shots of booze to trim my attitude, I borrowed the name.

Of course my politics tend to list to the starboard as well.

No Navy or Merchant Marine, but after high school and throughout college, I was a commercial halibut and crab fisherman in the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska. Close enough?

"If Boston's entitled to th... (Below threshold)

"If Boston's entitled to their $15 billion tunnel, then decent, affordable, airport access is not outrageous."

Let's see... about as many people per minute use the Big Dig as use the Ketchican airport in a day. Meanwhile, a bridge for Ketchican would cost over $200 million (budgeted at $223 million at one point), versus $15 billion for the Big Dig.

Do the math.

That's a specious argument,... (Below threshold)
Starboard Attitude:

That's a specious argument, Cirby, in many ways.

It also relies on bad data concerning the number of people, not just ticket-holding airline passengers, who need access to the island--whether for airport access, or real estate development, or just to get home. They NEED a bridge.

I don't know what incremental improvement the Big Dig made over the previous access, but you certainly cannot equate that with the full traffic of today.

Bostonians received a $15 billion dollar improvement to previous access that did get the job done. Meanwhile, residents and tourists in Ketchican have no bridge at all. How do you compare the value in dollars per person, when you're comparing an improvement to an existing system versus the absence of a system altogether?

If I could earmark my own federal tax contributions, it wouldn't have gone to the Big Dig.

The Big Dig has to be one o... (Below threshold)

The Big Dig has to be one of the most f*cked up projects in the history of the world. I drove through it so long that I finally lost my marbles and moved to Maine. However, prior to my departure, I did manage to read no fewer than 20 novels whilst sitting in stopped-dead traffic on Storrow Drive.

If the rumors are correct - and I fear that they are - Soprano-type characters in Boston and beyond got their dirty mitts on this project before it even started, and pissed all the money away.

I'm not a big fan of lawsuits - but I sure hope that husband and his family are HUGELY compensated for the death of his wife.

(Trying to recall - I lent out my Howie Carr "The Brothers Bulger" book - but I seem to recall Howie discussing the mob ties to The Big Dig project???)

"That's a specious argument... (Below threshold)

"That's a specious argument, Cirby, in many ways.
It also relies on bad data concerning the number of people, not just ticket-holding airline passengers, who need access to the island--whether for airport access, or real estate development, or just to get home. They NEED a bridge."

Actually, they don't. At least, not one that's going to cost over $200 million (more recent estimates are more like $315 million). There are 8000 people in Ketchican (less than 14,000 in the entire county), and 50 on the island with the airport. The data is not bad, by any stretch, because it covers the people who have to use the airport (which is pretty much everyone who goes to the island it is on). About 600 people per day. Even allowing for entire families to go with the passengers, you're still looking at about 40 cars per hour going each way on that $200+ million bridge.

Real estate development? Where? Ketchican has been shrinking in population, and there's not much reason to go there other than to get somewhere else.

Anything that will stop the ferries from running will also stop the planes from flying. You know, for those seven commercial flights per day by Alaska Airlines.

"Bostonians received a $15 billion dollar improvement to previous access that did get the job done. "

What Boston are you talking about? The road system there had been in near-perpetual gridlock for decades, and allowed for zero improvement without radical changes. The alternative to the Big Dig was allowing the effective shutdown of a major city for up to 10 hours per day (projected at 16 hours by 2010), while the alternative for Ketchican was making people wait a half hour for the ferry.

"The Big Dig has to be one ... (Below threshold)

"The Big Dig has to be one of the most f*cked up projects in the history of the world."

True. And the Gravina Bridge (the "Bridge to Nowhere") would cost over ten times that, per person in the affected area, with little or no improvement.

Modern Marvels does do engi... (Below threshold)

Modern Marvels does do engineering disaster shows. So I'm sure they will cover this one day.

Christ,$15 billion... (Below threshold)
Starboard Attitude:


$15 billion bought Bostonians an extra scoop of mashed potatoes with their already adequate evening meal. Meanwhile, Ketchican residents get no meal at all.

There is no "county" around Ketchican, and there are no roads out of town. If you're working with two population figures, that's only because Ketchican has drawn its "city limits" narrower than the Borough itself. Abandon the 8000 figure and use the 14,000 number if you must--tho it seems small. Ketchican was claiming nearly 30,000 in the late 70's. I guess they moved because of lack of bridge access.

Your estimate of 40 cars per hour on the bridge is silly. You can't look at ferry traffic and extrapolate that to bridge traffic. The ferry is a slow, cumbersome, piece of crap that creates a disincentive for accessing the island. With an open bridge, and no ferry lines or schedules to deal with, traffic would flow freely. People make use of what they have.

It reminds me of my mother when I bought her a telephone answering machine and asked her to get call waiting. She said, "I don't need this--I only get about two calls per day!" Much to her surprise, she found herself returning 20 calls every evening, and picking up even more through call waiting. Your bridge use estimates are not much better than her reasoning.

Cirby, in my first post I said I didn't necessarily think the federal government should pay for the bridge. But I did say Ketchican needs that bridge. We can debate the former all you want. But unless you tell me you've spent any meaningful time in Ketchican, or ever lived in a small city with no roads out of town and therefore must rely on a ferry system and/or a monopolistic airline to leave home, then discussing the latter with you is pointless.

The anti-pork people (whom I usually agree with) have spewed so much anti-bridge propaganda, it reminds me of the BDS crap of the leftist 911 conspiracy theorists. It's embarassing.

"$15 billion bought Bostoni... (Below threshold)

"$15 billion bought Bostonians an extra scoop of mashed potatoes with their already adequate evening meal."

You keep saying that, but nobody else on the planet thinks so. Boston traffic was a complete disaster, and had been since the 1950s. At least.

"I guess they moved because of lack of bridge access."

No, they moved because there's not much reason to live there (the biggest industry in the area closed almost a decae back), and putting in a bridge that's worth ten times more than the airport and the island put together won't help.

"Your estimate of 40 cars per hour on the bridge is silly. You can't look at ferry traffic and extrapolate that to bridge traffic."

...but you can look at the number of people in the area, find out how often they can afford to fly, and look at how many trips to the island are necessary. You're not going to have ten times as many people flying out of the airport just because they can get there a few minutes faster. Even if you double the number of passengers, you're not getting more than 100 cars per hour, under any circumstances. the determinant isn't ferry trips, it's plane trips. It takes me well over a half hour to get to the Orlando airport, and cutting that to ten minutes isn't going to make me fly out more often.

You might note that the last time I flew out of Boston, I took the ferry to the airport from my hotel.

"But I did say Ketchican needs that bridge."

...and nothing that you've provided backs that up. Handwaving about more potential passengers or possible real estate booms doesn't change that.

I'm getting this "Northern Exposure" flashback right now. Maurice Minnifield is claiming that Cicely is going to be the "Alaskan Riviera," as long as they get that new bridge in...

Much as Paul's take on New ... (Below threshold)
Bill M:

Much as Paul's take on New Orleans and the aftermath of Katrina has the ring of truth and reason, I find that Starboard Attitude's take on the "bridge to no-where" has the same flavor.

In each case, the person speaking is one who knows, having been there and done that. And usually, the ones against have no experience and are just parroting the "company" line.

I have never formed an opinion about the bridge, per ce. The bridge project seems a typical boondoggle, but Starboard Attitude's take on it makes some sense.

With luck, the bridge will eventually appear, perhaps with some federal bucks. But let's hope our federal bucks won't be used to fix the real mess in this thread -- The Big Dig!

Well, Boston wasn't ... (Below threshold)

Well, Boston wasn't entitled to the $15B, just as Alaska isn't entitled to $200M. The Big Dig was and continues to be a colossal waste of money. And, being one of Teddy Kennedy's pet projects, he now has another woman's death on his hands. Maybe he can dedicate a portion of the park named for Rose Kennedy to this poor woman's memory. Don't hold your breath. (no pun intended).

Pssst, Jay:They... (Below threshold)

Pssst, Jay:

They broke ground in , with initial estimates saying ten years and 2.5 billion dollars.


Although I doubt it will ha... (Below threshold)

Although I doubt it will happen, I hope people will finally be held accountable, up to and including criminal charges, for the "big dig" mess.

Bill M,"In each ca... (Below threshold)

Bill M,

"In each case, the person speaking is one who knows, having been there and done that. "

Actually, not so much.

So far, the total excuse for building the bridge is "I don't like the ferry, and some people think that maybe the area could be more developed if the airport trip went from 30 minutes to 15 minutes."

So far, there's absolutely no serious justification for the bridge. Starboard Attitude can't even come up with one, other than a possible real estate boom to buy plots of land in one of the rainiest places on the planet (they measure rainfall by the foot there).

I have a question about the... (Below threshold)

I have a question about the Big Dig. Our Secretary of Transportation here in here Washington State is Doug McDonald. My understanding is that he was involved in the Massachusetts Water Resource Authority (MWRA) until 2001. Did this group work with the people on the Big Dig?

McDonald as well as the mayor of Seattle and the County Executive are trying to push through a proposal to have a tunnel built along our waterfront. None of these people want the cheaper solution of retrofitting or even rebuilding the viaduct that traffic uses now. Of course they are trying to get federal dollars for most of the work. We have two not so intelligent senators (hmmmm.. sounding more and more like Massachusetts now) that are trying to get the federal government to pay for most of the project.

One last note on the Bridge... (Below threshold)

One last note on the Bridge to Nowhere:

One of the sponsors of the Bridge is Senator Ted Stevens. Yes, that one. The "an internet was sent by my staff" guy.

...and this is one of the big proponents of the Bridge...

I have seen plenty of argum... (Below threshold)

I have seen plenty of arguments for the bridge that make sense - access during bad seas (not always equated with socked in airport), better emergency evacuation via air, etc.

Look, our highway and bridge/tunnel system was initially built for DEFENSE, not economics - allowing better rapid transport via multiple routes - and is not based purely on the number of people who will use it.

K and the surrounding towns have two ways out to civilization, sea and air. Air is the only quick emergency way for medical or other supplies and treatment to access the citizens. The Bridge would solidify the access to air transport. It would improve the economic milieu of the area and strengthen the local economy. Its a bridge for people who live in the middle of nowhere to be better connected to the rest of the world, not a bridge to nowhere.

...of Teddy Kennedy's pet p... (Below threshold)

...of Teddy Kennedy's pet projects, he now has another woman's death on his hands.

Tim - you are totally out of order. Given your logic govenors having approved a highway projects are personally responsible for all highway accidents and fatalities (Hmmm... is HebeGeBe then responsible for the lost lives in Afganistan and Iraq?)

This is up Kerrys avevenue.... (Below threshold)

This is up Kerrys avevenue. So I will defer to His superior intellect.Heh Heh

$15,000,000,000? think of all the windmills We could build with that?

"K and the surrounding town... (Below threshold)

"K and the surrounding towns have two ways out to civilization, sea and air."

So for about 1/10 the money it would cost for the bridge, build them an airport on the town side of the water instead of using the one where nobody lives...

Wow,A thread witho... (Below threshold)


A thread without Lee. Very refreshing.

Real life issues must not penetrate the tin foil.

Either that or there weren't enough of the right keywords to set off the auto-troll bot.

mesablue,Now you'v... (Below threshold)


Now you've done it! LOL - that auto-troll bot is surely set to pick up the word "Lee"?

Question for the group: I was traveling to Allston from Melrose each day way back in 1985-87. There was a lot of work being done even then on the merger of Route 93 and the Tobin Bridge - wasn't that the early stages of the Big Dig? Or did they not start the official project until later?

And to add insult to injury, at some point along the way, they decided to create even more building havoc in the same area and can the Boston GAHden to build the FLEET CENTER, which of course has now been renamed again due to bank mergers. *sigh*

Cirby,Ok, I'll sca... (Below threshold)
Starboard Attitude:


Ok, I'll scale back the hyperbole a little.

I'll give you the traffic nightmare in Boston. I lived there for 3 months in 1977, and I spent about 6 weeks there during the 90's for various trials. Traffic sucked in the 70's and it continued to suck in the late 90's. Like you, I took the ferry from my hotel to Logan the last time I left town.

No, the $15 billion tunnel is not justification for the bridge. I wasn't really serious when I made my initial comment. For whatever reason, I clung to that half-heartedly when you challenged me.

As for needing the bridge--I continue to vehemently disagree.

You are right about why the population has dwindled. It will rebound, however, and tourism is becoming increasingly more important in the area. I'm not just talking about cruise ship traffic, but people who fly in for fishing charters, eco-tourism, etc. Talk to me in 10 years, and you'll blush over the 40-car-per-hour estimate. I've seen it happen in other parts of Alaska, and you've seen Orlando rise from a swamp--particularly in the past 20 years. Hell, you can't even compare Orlando to 10 years ago--much is unrecognizable.

Another problem with your view is the assumption that the island is all about the airport. It is not, and it certainly won't be in the future. Trust me on this one: It's the only place left to build, and there are reasons to develop there.

You can't view the needs of Southeast Alaska residents from the perspective of life in the contiguous states. Towns like Ketchican are wedged between sheer mountains and the sea. Room for development is limited, and environmentalists effectively shut down most efforts to expand. The island is an exception. There are no roads out of town, so each town is isolated like an island. To travel, you need a boat or a plane. And, people isolated like that need to travel much more than others.

This is probably meaningless to you--but only because you can't relate to it. Live it, and you will understand. "Needs" are evaluated differently in that type of environment than they are in places like Orlando where there is free access from every direction, and room to sprawl forever. What may seem irrational to you based on your experiences are perfectly rational to most residents of Southeast Alaska. I live in Los Angeles, and I would probably agree with you if I were not born and raised in Juneau. I really think you need to experience it.

We can quibble about the cost, or who should bear that cost. But the bridge is sorely needed. Period.

Oh, and I share your embarassment about Steven's ignorance of the Internet. But aside from the recent pork controversy and a few strange things he's said in the past year or two, he's been an outstanding senator and he's done a lot for the state for many years. Perhaps it's time for him to move on, but judge him on his body of great work and not the petty slips of the tongue he's making now. (Bias alert: Stevens and my father were good friends until he died in the late '90's. I have a plaque from Stevens commemorating my father's service in other aspects of Alaskan government.)

yea that's good enough SA, ... (Below threshold)

yea that's good enough SA, sorry for the delay ;-)






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