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  • Published on: 7th September 2019
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Abstract

This paper examines a case study of Boston’s Central Artery/Tunnel (CA/T) Project and the problems during and after its construction.  The  CA/T project, known as the “Big Dig,” was developed to bypass Boston’s Central Artery highway which was plagued with traffic problems.  The Central Artery highway was constructed in 1959 and was intended to carry a traffic volume of 75,000 vehicles today.  By the 1980’s, more than 200,000 vehicles a day were crossing the bridge, causing bumper to bumper traffic that was some of the worst of the nation.  The CA/T suppose to be a solution that would replace the aging elevated roadway with an 8-10 lane underground expressway directly beneath it, create a 14-lane two-bridge crossing over the Charles River, and extend I-90 through a tunnel beneath South Boston and the harbor to Logan Airport.  The finished project exceeded the proposed costs, violated many safety inspections, and was seven years overdue.

Consider the following statement: “Government funded projects intended to serve as ‘prestige projects,’ such as the ‘Big Dig,’ should not be judged on the basis of cost.” Do you agree or disagree with this statement? Why?

Project success is defined as adherence to budget, schedule, functionality (performance), and client satisfaction. Under these criteria, cite evidence that suggests the “Big Dig” project was a success and/or failure.

 What are the lessons to be learned from the “Big Dig” project? Was this a failure of project estimation or project control by the contractors and local government?

Case Study 8.2

Consider the following statement: “Government funded projects intended to serve as ‘prestige projects,’ such as the ‘Big Dig,’ should not be judged on the basis of cost.” Do you agree or disagree with this statement? Why?

I believe government projects should not be judged on the basis of cost — the whole external benefits should be taken into account by comparing the cost of the project with the benefits.  For example, the Sydney Opera House, as it was proposed in 1957, should have never been built.  From a project planning and management perspective, it was one of the biggest planning disasters in history.  Today, it adds $775 million to the Australian economy every year in direct ticket sales, retail and food spending and by boosting tourism to Australia (Irvine, 2013)

The budget initial cost of the Opera House in 1957 was AUS$7 million. It ended up costing more than $100 million and more than 10 years to construct — a 1400 per cent cost blowout — making it the most expensive cost blowout in the history of mega projects around the world (Flyvbjerg, 2013). To be fair, the Australian government got lucky.  The proponents of the Opera House deceived lawmakers and the public by lowballing the budget to get the project started.  But people around the world that know little of Australia instantly recognize the Sydney Opera House, and it’s one of the leading factors to Australia's increase in tourism following its completion in 1973.  By 1975, two years after its completion, it had paid for itself (Martin).  In 2003, the Opera House’s architect, Jorn Utzon, was honored with the Pritzker Prize for architecture, the most renowned architectural prize in the world.

My point is, there have been many prestige projects that have been failures. NASA has had many project failures, such as the Mars Climate Orbiter that was ‘lost’ in space.  But large projects are what make countries great, whether it be a sophisticated architectural project or a space exploration project.  Every time a project is undertaken, there is an inherent risk.  But taking big risks pays off — if the American government had never taken a risk with NASA we would have never landed on the moon.

2. Project success is defined as adherence to budget, schedule, functionality (performance), and client satisfaction. Under these criteria, cite evidence that suggests the “Big Dig” project was a success and/or failure.

    

    In short, I would say the Big Dig at this point in history is a failure.  But, I believe in the next few years it will be considered a success.  Let me explain why.

    The initial budget of the Big Dig was $2.56 billion.  Estimates increased to $7.74 billion in 1992, $10.4 billion in 1994, and $14.8 billion in 2007 — more than five times the original estimate. The reported reasons for the cost escalation included inflation, the failure to assess unknown subsurface conditions, environmental and mitigation costs, and expanded scope (Greiman, 2010). With interest, the project could ultimately cost around $24 billion and will not be paid off until 2038 (Hofherr, 2015).  Clearly it was a failure from a budget standpoint.  

    On the next criteria, schedule, the Big Dig again is a failure.  Work began on the project in 1983 with an assumed completion date of 1998 (Pinto, 2015).  The project did not wrap up until 2004 — seven years late.

    From a functionality standpoint, I personally think the Big Dig was a success.  By submerging the interstate it cleared up the horrible traffic congestion in Boston.  This contributed to lower greenhouse gas emissions levels since vehicles were no longer idling while stuck in traffic for 10 hours a day.  According to the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, carbon monoxide levels dropped 12 percent citywide due to the Big Dig.  

    The Big Dig also opened up 300 acres of land and jumpstarted the Innovation District — making Boston a much more attractive place to live.  Because of space opened up by destroying the John F. Fitzgerald Expressway, an urban park named The Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway was put in its place that is now an amazing part of the city.  It provides more beauty and accessibility to Boston’s neighborhoods.

    The last issue is client satisfaction.  This one is still mixed I would say.  Many Bostonians got a sour taste in their mouths due to the project and now have an impression that the government isn’t capable of large projects.  This is one reason the Green Line Extension Project has not been approved — too many people think it will be another financial disaster.   

    According to the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority,  the Green Line Extension is a commitment under the state’s Clean Air Act State Implementation Project that will extend the MBTA Green Line from a relocated Lechmere Station in East Cambridge to Union Square in Somerville and College Avenue in Medford.  It will also support municipal plans for sustainable growth and urban redevelopment and provide residents of environmental justice communities with faster rides to jobs and other destinations (2013).  

    I believe in time, many people will start to see the Big Dig as a success, much like the Sydney Opera House.  But as of right now, with as many problems as there have been it is seen as a failure.   I think the ease it has had on driving from South Boston to Everett, the space it has opened up for parks and business districts, and the reduction in carbon emissions and traffic will eventually replace the memories of cost overruns and safety violations.

3.  What are the lessons to be learned from the “Big Dig” project? Was this a failure of project estimation or project control by the contractors and local government?

    

The failure of the Big Dig project was both a failure of project estimation and project control.  In an article for BU’s Metropolitan Magazine, Roger Warburton, an associate professor of administrative sciences at Boston University, found that engineers knew the original projections were far too low, but politicians covered up their actual estimates (2012).  In the late 1980s, engineers already knew the CA/T project would be between $12 and $14 billion and they told everyone involved — including politicians — who chose to remain silent.  The reason they did this was so that the funding would be approved in order so the project would be approved.

    It was also a failure of project control, as evident by the lack of control of contractor bids and shoddy construction.  The Big Dig was a joint effort between US construction and management companies Bechtel Infrastructure Corporation and Parson Brinckerhoff.  Although Bechtel/Parson Brinckerhoff joint management firm had all criminal charges dropped, they paid more than $407 million to resolve civil and criminal liabilities in connection with project defects (Hoefherr, 2015). In on instance in May 2006, six employees of the concrete supplier Aggregate Industries were charged with fraudulently concealing that some concrete used in the tunnels were of inferior quality. Aggregate Industries would later pay a $50 million penalty to the state for its role in supplying substandard concrete (Hofherr, 2015). Four workers were killed over the course of working on the project and a 38-year-old woman from Jamaica Plain was crushed in her car by four concrete slabs that fell from the ceiling of the tunnel — resulting in her death.  This tragedy led to the firing of the MTA chairman and a $26 million dollar settlement from the largest contractor on the Big Dig for the damages resulting from the collapse.  Because of the lack of project control, federal and state authorities negotiated around $534 million in settlements alone!

    The lessons to be learned from the project is when partnering with private firms for “prestige projects” such as the CA/T, state and government officials should be closely monitoring construction.  All parties involved need to work together to carefully calculate a project’s cost, and continuous monitor and adjust it as construction continues.  Politicians should be more honest when proposing a project as well — they were told numerous times that the cost of the project would well exceed the estimated figure.  The was not only a failure of the contractors but a failure of the government because of the lack of oversight and holding people accountable for failures before something bad happened.

    

References

DePaola, F. (2016, January 25). Green Line Extension Project. Retrieved March 20, 2016, from http://greenlineextension.eot.state.ma.us/

Greiman, V. (n.d.). The Big Dig: Learning from a Mega Project | APPEL – Academy of Program/Project & Engineering Leadership. Retrieved March 19, 2016, from http://appel.nasa.gov/2010/07/15/the-big-dig-learning-from-a-mega-project/

Hofherr, J. (2015). Can We Talk Rationally About the Big Dig Yet? Retrieved March 20, 2016, from http://www.boston.com/cars/news-and-reviews/2015/01/05/can-talk-rationally-about-the-big-dig-yet/0BPodDnlbNtsTEPFFc4i1O/story.html

Irvine, J. (2013, October 22). Why Sydney's Opera House was the world's biggest planning disaster. The Courier Mail. Retrieved March 19, 2016, from http://www.couriermail.com.au/news/why-sydneys-opera-house-was-the-worlds-biggest-planning-disaster/story-e6freon6-1226744769556

Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority. (n.d.). Retrieved March 18, 2016, from http://www.mbta.com/about_the_mbta/t_projects/default.asp?id=23864

Warburton, R. (2012, Winter). Project Management: The Big Dig. Metropolitan - The Magazine of Boston University Metropolitan College, 10-13.

The Central Artery/Tunnel Project - The Big Dig. (n.d.). Retrieved March 20, 2016, from http://www.massdot.state.ma.us/highway/TheBigDig.aspx

Pinto, J. K. (2016). Project management: Achieving competitive advantage. Retrieved March 20, 2016.

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