Part 4: The Double Cross
About The Episode
The project faces an unexpected challenge on the home front: resistance from local environmentalists and residents – the very people the Big Dig was intended to please. Now, they say that Fred Salvucci has lost his way.
Ian Coss: Did you know Fred Salvucci by reputation?
Martha Bailey: Oh yeah. Everybody did.
Ian Coss: Were you excited to work with him?
Martha Bailey: Oh, I think we were all ready to do fabulous things and were excited to be working on the project. But it's, it's hard. I think it was hard for almost anybody to really challenge Fred.
NARR: Martha Bailey started working for the Big Dig in 1986. In those days, it still went by the unwieldy name of the Central Artery and Tunnel Project, and it wasn't really on the public's radar yet. I mean, yes Michael Dukakis had announced the idea with the big full-color maps, and yes, Tip O'Neill was down in Washington fighting to fund it. But it wasn't real real. At least not that most people could see.
Just upstairs in the city's main train station, unknown to the commuters flowing through every day, a staff of hundreds had already assembled -- engineers, planners, consultants -- all working to make the Big Dig reality.
Martha Bailey: And we had big offices. It was very grand. So the bigger it was, the more papers that I accumulated: position papers and new designs and you couldn't possibly read everything
Ian Coss: So like truly stacks of papers, like a foot high or feet high.
Martha Bailey: Yep. And I have a wonderful picture of it.
Ian Coss: Oh really?
Martha Bailey: Looks, like a dump.
NARR: At this point, there were many unanswered questions about the project. And Martha Bailey soon found herself drawn into what would become the thorniest of them all: how to cross the Charles River.
Martha Bailey: Wednesday nights, Fred and Matt Coogan, came to this meeting
NARR: As you may recall, Coogan was Salvucci's undersecretary of transportation.
Martha Bailey: Fred was usually late, so we probably didn't start till five and we went through options.
NARR: The basic challenge was that when the new Central Artery got to the northern edge of Boston, it would have to do three things all at once. It had to come up from underground, cross the Charles River, and then intersect with a pair of important roads that ran on either side of that river -- Rt1 and Storrow Drive. So Salvucci and the team started working through different combinations of ramps, loops, bridges and tunnels that could link all these pieces together. Each option was called a "scheme," and each scheme was given a letter.
Martha Bailey: And as you know, we started with A, and we went quickly through most of the alphabet to Z
NARR: Then there was double a, double b, double c, double dd -- for a total of about thirty different schemes.
Martha Bailey: And there was some debate, but Fred is nothing, if not stubborn, and he was determined that scheme Z was gonna be it.
NARR: Scheme Z. For Salvucci, Scheme Z offered a solution to the Artery's original sin: all those on and off ramps that were too close together. But it came at a price. To untangle that mess, some drivers would have to cross the river twice – over bridges that were right next to each other. Here’s Matt Coogan.
Matt Coogan: We were taking polluting automobiles from one side of the Charles River, building a bridge to carry them to the other side of the river, putting 'em in a loop and building another bridge to take them back to where they came from.
Martha Bailey: And that didn't make a lot of sense to a lot of people.
NARR: It meant more lanes, more looping ramps, and more concrete hanging over the Charles River.
Martha Bailey: And it was an ugly damn bridge. I'll tell you. It was unsupportable.
Ian Coss: Did you tell Fred at the time that you didn't think Scheme Z was the right choice?
Matt Coogan: Sure. I told him that.
Ian Coss: How did he respond?
Matt Coogan: He thought it was too late to play the alternatives game. And that's the one that we ran with.
ARCHIVAL: There are persistent rumblings that scheme Z was not the preferred alternative of the staff of engineers and planners that first studied all 31 alternatives.
NARR: In 1988, Salvucci made the final decision to go with Scheme Z -- despite the opposition from his staff.
ARCHIVAL: Secretary Salvucci overruled that recommendation.
Martha Bailey: And I tried to be as good as soldiers as I could be, but it was hard.
NARR: Not only did Coogan and Bailey have to accept Salvucci's decision, they would now have to sell it to the public. Bailey called it "selling the dog." And as she soon found out, the public wasn't buying it either.
ARCHIVAL: Tomorrow night on the 10 o'clock news, Central Artery officials go to bat to defend scheme Z
NARR: From GBH News this is the Big Dig, a study in American infrastructure. I'm Ian Coss.
The idea of burying the Central Artery was born out of a period of intense citizen activism. This was supposed to be a new kind of public works project for a new era of public works. The days of tearing down neighborhoods in the name of “progress” were over. This was now the era of environmental impact statements and citizen oversight. Some have called it the era of "Do No Harm." The Big Dig embodied all the idealism of this new era. And yet the project would nearly be consumed by the very same forces that had unleashed it in the first place.
This is Part 4: The Double Cross.
Pre-RollNARR: There's an academic article that came out a few years ago about infrastructure costs in America. And the article got a lot of play in the media, I think because it makes a kind of provocative argument about what is actually driving those costs.
Leah Brooks: Okay, so my co-author zach and I wanted to understand if infrastructure really is as expensive as, as everyone says,
NARR: I spoke with one of the two authors, economist Leah Brooks.
Leah Brooks: and then second, be able to measure it in a way that was compelling.
NARR: In order to measure those costs over time, Brooks and her co-author, Zachary Liscow, decided to look specifically at highways -- partly because we've built a ton of them, so there was a ton of data to look at.
Leah Brooks: We found some books, that the Federal Highway Administration published that told us how much money state spent in each year on highway construction in their state.
NARR: Using that data, they calculated the cost per mile of highway for every state in every year.
Leah Brooks: Correcting for inflation we spend about three times as much in the late eighties to build a highway mile as we did in the early 1960s.
Ian Coss: And what is the turning point like where does the line really start to tick up?
Leah Brooks: What's clear in our data is that the costs of building a highway mile are pretty flat until some point in the early to mid 1970s, and at that point, costs tick upwards.
ARCHIVAL: The great question of the seventies is, shall we surrender to our surroundings?
NARR: This is Richard Nixon, in his 1970 State of the Union.
ARCHIVAL: Or shall we make our peace with nature and begin to make reparations for the damage we have done to our air, to our land and to our water?
NARR: The same month Nixon gave that speech, he signed into law a bill that would forever change the way we build infrastructure: The National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA. It is the cornerstone of all American environmental law.
Leah Brooks: And requires all federally funded projects to write an environmental impact. statement.
NARR: Basically, the government would now hold itself to a new standard: everything we build has to consider the effects on the environment. But that new standard is not the game changer.
Leah Brooks: What really drives cost is the consequences of failing to write an environmental impact statement in a way that's consistent with the federal statute. If you don't or somebody thinks you haven't, um, NEPA gives private citizens the right to sue.
NARR: Then, in 1971 the Supreme Court gave citizens even more grounds to sue the government, in a case appropriately enough, about the construction of a highway through a park – Overton Park.
Leah Brooks: and I think NEPA and Overton Park are the beginning of the foot in the door for people to take issue with large federal projects, but the door swings much wider open
ARCHIVAL: we're here this morning to announce a major clean air act lawsuit
ARCHIVAL: The Sierra Club are suing none over. But over air stacks
NARR: And this is the heart of her article's argument. Leah Brooks believes that this new legal power that citizens had to challenge, delay or ultimately block government projects, is the single most important factor in explaining that jump in infrastructure costs we see in the 1970s.
Leah Brooks: And I do think that in a lot of the academic literature and in a lot of the popular discussion, people take citizen input as an unalloyed good. And I think this project has led me to the conclusion that participation has costs as well as benefits. Like, I wish it were, the participation was costless, um, and that we had the infinite ability to listen to people and hear all voices at all stages of the project. But I don't think it is.
NARR: The story of Scheme Z would make those costs – and benefits – painfully clear.
AMBIENCE: I want to welcome you to the Charles River. This is where the river ends. If you want to exit into the harbor…those train bridges on the left, to get those to open, channel 13 on your marine radio...
NARR: The Charles River is itself a big public works project. There is nothing natural about it.
AMBIENCE: Have you ever heard of a tidal river, like the Thames of England?
NARR: As any duck boat tour worth its feathers will tell you…once, this whole area between Boston and Cambridge was a vast tidal basin surrounded by salt marshes.
AMBIENCE: We blocked it off in 1908. The gate on your port side would roll out of the gate behind us…
NARR: Over time the tidal basin was dammed, and the marshes were filled in. The result is not quite a river and not quite a lake. It's a calm expanse of slow moving water. So calm, they even let podcasters drive the boat.
AMBIENCE: You want me to hold this…I’ve always wanted to hold one of these things.
NARR: As the poet David McCord wrote that the Charles is like "a great mirror held up to the city's most favoring profile."
ARCHIVAL: Fourth of July
NARR: This is where the world's largest rowing event is held -- the Head of the Charles -- and where each year fireworks are set off to the strains of the 1812 Overture.
Fred Salvucci understood that you don't just build across the Charles River. For Boston, that's like saying you're going to build across Central Park. No, you bow before the Charles River, and pray that its defenders find you worthy.
NARR: To his credit, Scheme Z was never Salvucci's first choice. He knew it was not ideal, that it was not elegant. But he felt like it was the best option he had.
Fred Salvucci: I felt awful.
NARR: And he also knew that the issue would not be truly settled until the state released and certified its Environmental Impact Statement. That is the perilous rite of passage for any big government project: when its opponents have the most leverage, when the lawsuits come.
And this might explain why Salvucci made an uncharacteristic decision with his plans for the Charles River. He decided on Scheme Z in 1988, but he didn't go out of his way to advertise that decision. It took a full year before a scale model was created and finally presented to the public.
Steve Kaiser: What got everybody's attention was when they had the first public presentation on Scheme Z.
NARR: Stephen Kaiser is a Cambridge resident and also a traffic engineer. He is the kind of person who goes to a lot of public meetings -- including this one.
Steve Kaiser: And I sat up in the audience and didn't say a word, but he was this ghastly white model, all white.
NARR: Now I realize that this is all a little hard to picture -- but try this: take the classic highway interchange that you see all over America: the four-leaf clover. You've got four loops, one in each corner, in order to make every possible connection. Now picture that same interchange, but you've stacked all the loops in one corner -- spiraling upwards 110 feet in the air. Now attach that to four separate bridges carrying 18 lanes of traffic over the river.
Steve Kaiser: Nothing but sprawling spaghetti all over the place, the spaghetti ball.
NARR: That was Scheme Z.
Steve Kaiser: most people, if they had any reaction, was to gasp. They couldn't believe this was being proposed by anyone, let alone Fred Salvucci. And I sat there, I says, This is awful. This can't be allowed.
NARR: Word about Scheme Z quickly spread in the communities that would one day surround it.
Tony V: I remember when I looked at it, I literally thought somebody had just scribbled on a page.
NARR: Tony V lived in Charlestown, just up the hill from the interchange -- he's also a local comedian.
Tony V: Like I looked at that and I go, it looks like an Annie's pretzel store exploded, you know, and then they just looked and went, oh, that's where the roads will go.
Alice Wolf: Fred Salvucci invited me to come to the area,
NARR: Alice Wolf was a city councilor in Cambridge, which is where a lot of those looping ramps would be located.
Alice Wolf: so he could show me exactly how wonderful it was going to be.
NARR: But her feeling was: why tear down all that elevated highway on the Boston side of the river, and then put Scheme Z on our side of the river?
Ian Coss: So at the time, did you buy what he was selling?
Alice Wolf: No
NARR: Salvucci was not used to being in this position. For years, he and this project had been the good guys -- the dreamers, the scrappy underdogs going up against Ronald Reagan and the DC bureaucrats.
Fred Salvucci: It was like a love-in with everybody even, you know, to fairly right wing Republicans on our side.
NARR: But now, that narrative was changing.
Fred Salvucci: And the team working on the artery who become accustomed to being the good guys, everybody loves us. Isn't it nice? Now they go into public meetings and people are yelling at 'em. So that's not comfortable
NARR: And I have to imagine that it was made even more uncomfortable by the fact that many of the people yelling and pushing back were his own allies. Steve Kaiser had been involved in the fight to stop the Inner Belt in Cambridge, back in the 1960s. Alice Wolf had personally campaigned for Michael Dukakis. They all shared this vision of tearing down the elevated artery and restoring downtown Boston. And yet now there was talk of a lawsuit by the City of Cambridge, and an effort was underway to designate the entire Charles River as protected parkland -- all to gain leverage on Scheme Z, and force Salvucci to back down.
Fred Salvucci: No, no, no, no. You don't need leverage. We're promising parks on both sides of the river.
NARR: He still sounds furious when he talks about it.
Fred Salvucci: You know, we know that Charles River is important. We wanna enhance it. We're committed to doing it. You don't have to play some weird game, to create an obstacle which you then solve by extortion. This is just wrong.
NARR: And if those were his allies, just imagine what his enemies could do with Scheme Z.
Steve Kaiser: Now there was one prime enemy of, um, Fred Salvucci, who was Richard Goldberg. Does that ring a bell?
Fred Salvucci: He's the origin of the Scheme Z problem.
Steve Kaiser: Goldberg is the one who Fred hates with greater passion, I think, than anybody else in the world.
NARR: Richard Goldberg was a part-owner of a parking lot in East Boston, all the way over on the other side of the harbor from Scheme Z. He had no skin in that game whatsoever, but he had a grievance.
This grievance goes back to the planning of the Third Harbor Tunnel, the other half of this mega mega project. As you may recall, Salvucci had committed early on that he would not take a single home in East Boston. One of the ways he made that work was by taking Goldberg's parking lot -- the Park 'N Fly. The plan was to use part of the lot for roads, and turn the rest into a public park – everybody wins.
NARR: What Salvucci didn't realize was that Goldberg was looking to expand his parking lot, not sell it. Goldberg told him he should move the road onto the airport land -- take the Delta Airlines reservation office instead.
Fred Salvucci: I said, wait a minute, if I move a road into them, I'm gonna be responsible for over 400 people losing their jobs. Cuz you wanna expand the parking lot. I can't do that.
NARR: The emotional appeal, however, didn't work, so next Salvucci tried a more practical angle.
Fred Salvucci: I said, look, we'll take you by eminent domain and you'll take us to court because you'll argue that we've even given you enough money. We'll be defended by some 22 year old kid that just graduated from law school and you'll have some three piece suit character from downtown, and you'll beat us in court and you'll get way more money than you deserve.
NARR: But once again, Goldberg was not swayed. He and Salvucci had often clashed over the years. So now, Goldberg believed this whole thing about taking his land was personal, that Salvucci was out to get him. And he would not allow himself to be got.
Ian Coss: So he told you in that meeting he was gonna spend a million dollars?
Fred Salvucci: Yeah, he said I’m prepared to spend over a million dollars to, to kill your project.
NARR: Salvucci knew a million dollars could buy an awful lot of trouble, so he tried to talk Goldberg down. But the parking lot owner was adamant.
Fred Salvucci: No, no, no, no, no. You're gonna be sorry. Uh, so he followed through on his threat.
Steve Kaiser: it was quite clear that, um, Goldberg was on the warpath.
NARR: Again, Cambridge resident Steve Kaiser.
Steve Kaiser: So he had his lawyer, Neil, put together pages and pages of comments and criticisms and quotes from court cases and this sort of thing. It was about three inches thick.
NARR: But those comments and quotes were not about the Park 'N' Fly, because no amount of documents will get people fired up about the Park 'N' Fly. The focus was on Scheme Z.
Steve Kaiser: Because that was the vulnerability, main vulnerability.
NARR: Goldberg ultimately hired a team of lawyers and PR experts. Then, he personally funded a series of studies by environmental consultants, all taking aim at Scheme Z. Finally, he helped organize a coalition of other opponents to the project -- everyone from cyclists and Sierra Club members, to downtown developers and academics -- a real grab bag of people.
Fred Salvucci: Embroidering all these other agendas into a focused opposition to Z, which was the point where you could get leverage. That was what Goldberg put together.
NARR: The irony here is pretty wonderfully dense. You've got Salvucci in the odd position of defending a highway monstrosity, in the name of a larger project that's all about tearing down a highway monstrosity. Now he's being fought by activists who argue that the Charles River should be protected as a public park, but they're funded and supported by a vindictive parking lot owner whose ultimate goal is to block the creation of a public park.
ARCHIVAL: For those of you still confused, this is where Scheme Z would rear its ugly head.
NARR: And if Goldberg was pouring fuel on the Scheme Z fire, the media was more than ready to give it oxygen.
Peter Howe: It all went back to this theme that the central artery project had been this really tightly managed story that had been kept inside a box.
NARR: Peter Howe is a former Boston Globe reporter who covered transportation.
Peter Howe: And the day that the media, including me, could finally start opening that box and answering questions about what's this really gonna look like ? It was like a wildfire broke out.
NARR: In 1990, Peter Howe was all over Scheme Z.
Peter Howe: One of the stories I did was I superimposed scheme Z on Boston common and realized this is basically the size of Boston common.
ARCHIVAL: over 10 stories high and larger in size than the Boston Common.
NARR: That image of a tangle of highways the size of America's oldest public park, became a constant reference point.
Doug McGarrah: It was almost daily.
NARR: Salvucci's chief of staff, Doug McGarrah, probably read every one of those articles by Peter Howe.
Doug McGarrah: It was almost daily, you know, scheme Z an area of the central artery ramps that are equivalent to the size of the Boston Common.
NARR: The two men are actually friends now, but back then...
Doug McGarrah: I would, I would spit, I would be so mad reading the Globe. Cause it was, it was always front page and it would always use that phrase.
ARCHIVAL: Many of the horrible photographs you've seen…
NARR: Salvucci would go on TV to try to explain Scheme Z -- and explain that just because it looked awful in a bird's eye view rendering, that didn't mean it would be any worse than what's there now.
ARCHIVAL: What's the last time you took a helicopter ride over the Prison Point Bridge to look at Boston Sand and Gravel?
NARR: But he was fighting an uphill battle. I mean it was called "Scheme Z." It sounded like an evil plot out of a James Bond movie. Its defining feature was the "double cross." Everything about this was a PR disaster.
ARCHIVAL: Not even Fred Salvucci could call Scheme Z small…
NARR: The problem with trying to debate a public works project in public, is that to really explain a decision like Scheme Z, you have to get into really boring technical stuff. You have to talk about federal guidelines for turn radii, section 404 permits, minimum weaving distances, right? Stuff no one wants to hear about. But to criticize the decision, that's easy.
ARCHIVAL: they call scheme Z, the highest density traffic interchange in the world.
NARR: The headlines basically wrote themselves.
ARCHIVAL: What's more? it will create as much elevated highway above ground as the central artery will put beneath.
Steve Kaiser: And it was quite clear that Fred was losing the, the war, for the mind of the Boston citizen at this point. I, I could see him just, he was at top of the mountain and he was sliding down like this and he was still a friend. So I didn't wanna see him battered and bashed by this process, but very few people were sympathetic and it brought him down.
NARR: Fred Salvucci, however, was not counting on anyone's sympathy -- he was busy plotting his own next move.
Mid-RollNARR: I wanna set the stage for what will be Fred Salvucci's final act in this story, with some help from the Duke himself -- Salvucci's longtime boss, Governor Dukakis.
Mike Dukakis: It all kind of, in an interesting way began with that 1976 visit of the Queen of England to Massachusetts. That had a remarkable impact.
NARR: In 1976, Queen Elizabeth visited the United States to mark the country's 200th birthday. One of her stops was in Boston -- the place where the Revolution began -- and where she was met by our governor.
Mike Dukakis: And here comes the Queen of England on short heels sliding down a carpeted gangplank. And I'm the guy at the bottom, Uh.
Ian Coss: Like she fell and slid.?
Mike Dukakis: She didn't fall.
NARR: The Queen kept her footing; I imagine her kind of surfing down the carpeted ramp, right into the waiting arms of Governor Dukakis.
Mike Dukakis: She came. Bump and said Good morning.
ARCHIVAL: We see you as our strong and trusted friend,
NARR: It was the week of July 4th. There was pageantry, music. Almost half a million people lined the banks of the Charles River to watch the fireworks that year. But for Dukakis, the visit marked something else -- there was something in the air, in people's attitudes, the way they carried themselves.
Mike Dukakis: Some kind of sense that maybe this was. A turning point of some kind.
NARR: A turning point in the state's fortunes, like the queen was some kind of lucky charm and little of her magic happened to rub off on us.
Mike Dukakis: Not that it happened overnight, believe me. But certainly by the eighties, I mean, the state was really starting to move and it was a pretty special time.
NARR: If you think of Massachusetts as a high-income state, or as a hub for biotech firms and start-ups -- then I'm here to tell you: the state you're thinking of is a relatively new phenomenon. In the mid ‘70s, our unemployment rate was 12%, the highest of any industrial state. By 1988, it was 3%, the lowest of any industrial state. That turnaround came to be known as the "Massachusetts Miracle."
ARCHIVAL: His fellow governors voted him the most effective governor in America,
NARR: Dukakis presided over most of this remarkable period. He was elected governor in 1974, again in 1982, and again in 86. Then he rode the glow of the miracle all the way through the presidential primaries in 1988.
ARCHIVAL: He wiped out huge budget deficits, and let an economic turnaround they call a miracle
NARR: For a time, it was like everything he touched turned to jobs and votes, and praise.
ARCHIVAL: Mike Dukakis, a president for the nineties.
NARR: But we all know how that worked out.
ARCHIVAL: Then came the state budget crisis.
NARR: And just as the Dukakis presidential campaign fizzled, the miracle seemed to fizzle as well.
ARCHIVAL: The deficit keeps growing, and the cost of debt keeps growing too.
NARR: The Queen's lucky charm seemed to have finally worn off.
Mike Dukakis: So the last year or two were not not a, a happy time.
ARCHIVAL: You couldn't read it on the faces of the faithful, but you could hear it the minute he walked in the room.
NARR: In 1989, Dukakis made it official: he was stepping down.
Dukakis: This will be my last term as Governor of Massachusetts.
Reporter: With those 10 words, he ended an era and just possibly let loose the grief that has no doubt hung heavy since his national loss.
Dukakis: I've loved this office and I still do. But there comes a time when...
NARR: By the end of 1990, it was also clear that the incoming governor – a Republican – would be bringing in his own people, including a new transportation team. So Salvucci and Dukakis found themselves at the end of their long road together. After twelve years in office, they were and still are the longest serving governor, and longest serving Secretary of Transportation in the state's history. But it was not the ending either of them would ever have dreamed of.
John DeVillars: There was a lot of energy. There was a lot of excitement but there was also sort of pall over the administration.
NARR: This is John DeVillars, the Secretary of Environmental Affairs under Dukakis. As he recalls, those final months were frantic, but maybe not as joyous as they could have been. For Dukakis and Salvucci, it was now a scramble to secure a legacy that had suddenly become clouded and tenuous. And a big piece of that legacy, was of course the Big Dig.
John DeVillars: You know, Michael and Fred worked on this for many, many, many years and they wanted to reach closure on it while they could still influence what that looked like at the end.
NARR: Closure in this case did not mean finishing construction. It didn't even mean beginning construction. Closure, meant a Final Environmental Impact Statement, or EIS. A five thousand page document detailing every aspect of the project – from the placement of ventilation shafts for car exhaust, to a disposal site for all the excavated dirt, to of course a plan for crossing the Charles River.
Salvucci believed that once the document was submitted and certified, no future administration would want to reopen that can of worms, and so the project -- specifically his vision for the project -- would be secure.
ARCHIVAL: Next month, after what critics say has been years of hedging, the state will finally release a long awaited environmental impact report.
NARR: DeVillars, as the Environmental secretary, would have to sign off on that impact statement, and he was eager to give his boss that closure. But he also had a job to do – a job Dukakis had given him – to advocate for the state's environment.
Fred Salvucci: Dillas had been very specific on a number of items that he wanted to see settled.
NARR: So as the clock ticked down to the end of the administration, Salvucci and his team began making some changes in hopes of appeasing DeVillars, and the Scheme Z critics.
ARCHIVAL: In the world of mega public works projects, mitigation is the magic potion of compromise.
NARR: Salvucci promised tens of millions of dollars for park improvements along the Charles River, and released a modified Scheme Z design with one of the ramps shaved off.
ARCHIVAL: They've even promised to put a pedestrian park underneath the scheme Z span.
NARR: A draft of the impact statement was released on November 21st. It included over 1500 separate mitigation measures. But it also included Scheme Z, and no amount of mitigation could hide that fact.
Steve Kaiser: As soon as that report came out and it had the plans in there for scheme Z. Well, the comments just flooded in.
NARR: But one of those comments was especially concerning. It came from the Conservation Law Foundation, or CLF.
Doug McGarrah: CLF was considered the most feared environmental litigation opponent.
NARR: Again Doug McGarrah, Salvucci's chief of staff.
Doug McGarrah: They had the resources and the legal horsepower to really be a problem on the project.
Fred Salvucci: And they said we think we've identified a flaw in the environmental impact statement.
NARR: A flaw..
ARCHIVAL: The Conservation Law Foundation says we need better public transportation.
NARR: The same day the draft impact statement was released -- surely in less time than it would take to read all 5,000 pages -- the CLF released their own statement, saying the state had to do more to keep cars off the new Artery, and provide alternatives to driving.
ARCHIVAL: Their report predicts the new artery will be gridlocked from day one.
NARR: If the state didn't respond, the CLF said: "we will try to legally stop the whole project."
Stephen Burrington: It was just a threat, but we, you know, people's attention was riveted.
NARR: Stephen Burrington was a young environmental lawyer who had recently joined the CLF, just as the organization was coming off a string of high profile legal victories.
Stephen Burrington: remember the, the, the Conservation Law Foundation was kind of at, at the height of its influence
Ian Coss: so the mere threat of a lawsuit at that point, given your track record was enough to, to get things done.
Stephen Burrington: Oh yeah, yeah, yeah.
NARR: So Burrington sat down with Salvucci to negotiate.
Stephen Burrington: Well, at that moment, what you had was a guy on the other side of the table who had become a master of the process that brought about one of the largest infrastructure projects the nation had ever seen. But had all of a sudden lost all of his power. He was days away from becoming citizen Fred and so those negotiations we had with him they were the only way that he could put a legacy in place.
NARR: As part of the impact statement, the state claimed it was going to make new investments in the city's public transportation. But for the CLF, that vague promise wasn't good enough.
Stephen Burrington: It's like, look, Fred, you know you've sworn up and down in the environmental impact statement that you're gonna create billions of dollars worth of transit projects over the next decade. Um, , you know, what do we do about this?
NARR: And at the end of the day, Salvucci wanted these transit projects to get done too. So he proposed a deal -- a binding legal agreement between CLF and the state.
Stephen Burrington: I felt like I was the most powerful guy in the world…(laugh), you know, I mean, you know, I felt like I owned the transit system in Boston.
NARR: Burrington and Salvucci, two men who had never been elected to public office in their lives, committed the state to building multiple transit extensions, creating a system of car-pool lanes, and limiting any new parking spaces in downtown Boston.
Stephen Burrington: It was a real high, it was a real high.
NARR: But the Conservation Law Foundation had to give something in return…
ARCHIVAL: The foundation told the 10 o'clock news tonight that if the state follows through on promises to make significant improvements in Boston's mass transit, it will not join in any fight that threatens the central artery. Even a fight over Scheme Z.
NARR: Not only would the CLF stay out of any lawsuit attacking the project, it would actively defend the project from other lawsuits, even when it came to Scheme Z. For Doug McGarrah the deal was a clear message to the whole environmental litigant community.
Doug McGarrah: That, you know, your best star litigant is now, gonna be a project supporter.
NARR: For Steve Kaiser, the deal was a betrayal.
Ian Coss: Um, you, you felt like the Conservation Law Foundation sold out Scheme Z to get this deal on transit?
Steve Kaiser: Yes. Absolutely. Absolutely.
NARR: The agreement was announced on December 19th, just a couple weeks before the Dukakis administration ended. It's hard to know if that deal did in fact save the project from a fatal lawsuit, but at that moment when it seemed like the whole city was turning on Scheme Z and on Fred Salvucci, suddenly having the CLF at his back was a huge shift. It showed he still had allies, and still had a plan. That when the lawsuits did come, it wouldn’t be some 22-year old who just graduated law school sitting at the defense table. It would be CLF.
For his part, Salvucci insists that the CLF agreement was really about the transit improvements. That the mutual defense pact buried within it was just a bonus. But that in itself is a very Salvucci approach. He was never the powerbroker who flaunted his power. He was the soft-spoken engineer wearing a non-leather belt with the buckle off to the side. He was the guy who still lived in the same triple decker apartment that he grew up in. The guy who decided to become a vegetarian as a kid after watching the neighborhood butcher pound veal cutlets. The guy who baked bread, played mandolin, foraged for mushrooms, and gave out coke bottles filled with homemade wine. Nothing about him suggests a master manipulator, but multiple people have described Salvucci to me using the term Machiavellian. Matt Coogan, who worked with Salvucci for years, but opposed him on Scheme Z, described his old boss this way:
Matt Coogan: It's like you are playing checkers when the guy next to you is playing chess. He is, he is always thinking 20 moves ahead of you. And it was hard sometimes to understand any given chess move. But you knew that, he was up to something.
NARR: That month, December of 1990 -- all the forces surrounding the Environmental Impact Statement collided.
Peter Howe: I think that I did 20 or 25 stories that month alone
NARR: Again, Globe reporter Peter Howe.
Peter Howe: every new detail that emerged really was big news at that point.
ARCHIVAL: This Thursday, the one and only public hearing scheduled for this environmental impact report will be held.
NARR: There were press conferences, community meetings, battling editorials in the paper.
Peter Howe: the dynamic really was that a conversation we should have been having across many years was all happening in about one month.
ARCHIVAL: Today, each person got five minutes to testify. Strictly timed.
Peter Howe: With the clock ticking until the day that Michael Duka would walk down the front steps of the state house and no longer be governor.
NARR: And as Peter Howe wrote at the time: Scheme Z loomed over everything like a giant question mark.
ARCHIVAL: Critics are coming out of the woodwork on Scheme Z because it could get a green light from Environmental Affairs Secretary John Dillas any day now.
NARR: All the focus was now on John DeVillars.
Alice Wolf: And that was the last hope.
NARR: Again Alice Wolf, who by this time was the Mayor of Cambridge.
Alice Wolf: He had to sign off on scheme Z. The last hope was he would not sign off on it
NARR: In those final weeks, Salvucci became convinced that members of his own team -- including Matt Coogan and Martha Bailey -- were also trying to influence DeVillars’ decision.
Fred Salvucci: So the people who were trying to sabotage, they were trying to get a requirement to consider alternatives into the final. And alternatives is a legal term and it means do another EISs.
NARR: Salvucci was deathly afraid that if the EIS – the Environmental Impact Statement – required the new administration to look for alternatives to Scheme Z, that would be the opening that the project’s opponents needed to scuttle the whole thing.
Fred Salvucci: so I worked really hard to get that word changed to options and not alternatives.
NARR: Matt Coogan denies ever attempting to undermine his boss, but he did believe the new administration should take more time and consider more options.
Matt Coogan: There was no feeling like, let's take a few months and get a great EIS out. It was, the world is going to end in six weeks.
NARR: The back and forth lasted through the holidays. Doug McGarrah recalls walking the empty corridors of the state house at night, after the ventilation had all been turned off and the air turned heavy and thick. There were long chaeck-lists to review, late night calls from Salvucci, and finally, there was just no more time.
Doug McGarrah: I remember actually having the document, and walking back to 10 Park Plaza, feeling like we were at the goal line.
NARR: On January 2, 1991, the day before the administration left office, John DeVillars looked down at a signature line with his name on it.
Ian Coss: So you're, you're almost more like the judge in all this, like the lawyers are arguing, and you're just the one at the end who looks at it all and just gives it the yay or nay…
John DeVillars: Yes, in essence, you know, from a statutory standpoint that that's absolutely the case. Obviously lots of people have lots of opinions about, uh, what should or shouldn't be done. And you listen to that and, and incorporate the ones that are good ones. And, uh, move ahead.
NARR: DeVillars was in a tough spot. He was the Environmental Affairs Secretary being asked to sign off on a ten-story tangle of highways, a design that many of his friends and allies opposed, and that an EPA administrator had called the "single ugliest structure in New England." It was one thing to be a loyal soldier and support the plan. But John DeVillars had to actually put his name on it.
At the same time, he knew that this was one of the final stones to be placed in the governing legacy of Dukakis and Salvucci. And only DeVillars could place it.
ARCHIVAL: Central Artery Project when looked at in its entirety.
NARR: In his press conference that day, DeVillars focused on the big picture: removing the elevated Central Artery, creating acres of greenspace in the city center, reducing air pollution. But none of that was news.
NARR: The piece WGBH ran is titled: "DeVillars endorses Scheme Z"
ARCHIVAL: All the promises of pristine benefits couldn’t erase one decision also included in today’s approval…
NARR: The endorsement was qualified, however, because DeVillars did add a recommendation, along with his approval.
ARCHIVAL: The approach that I'm strongly recommending that is to conduct further review has the potential for creating greater understanding as well as the potential for further improving scheme Z and possibly finding an option to it.
Alice Wolf: He gave this little, little, little loophole that allowed more activity to go on around it. If he had not put that in, then it would've been a done deal.
NARR: It was a small concession to the Scheme Z opponents -- just a recommendation for further review -- but it would have huge consequences for the project.
NARR: At noon the next day, Dukakis walked down the steps of the capital.
ARCHIVAL: This time. He was leaving voluntarily, he'd said, unlike the last time when he was voted out.
NARR: Salvucci watched from off to the side, as three trumpets played Aaron Copland's "Fanfare for the Common Man."
ARCHIVAL: Three terms as governor now 57 years old, a one-time contender for the presidency. Now into the wilderness once the Duke now citizen Dukakis.
Ian Coss: When you did leave the artery, did you have to clean out that desk and clean out that office?
Martha Bailey: Yes, I did. I think I threw it all at the trash.
NARR: Martha Bailey, the Artery staffer who also hated Scheme Z, left along with Fred Salvucci, but not on good terms.
Martha Bailey: When he left, he came over to say goodbye to everybody, but he could hardly say goodbye to me. He thought that Matt and I were traitors.
NARR: Salvucci was right that by certifying the Impact Statement, his vision for the project would be secure, even after he was gone. All except for the Charles River Crossing. He begged the incoming governor to ignore DeVillars' recommendation for more review, and ignore the members of his own staff who were still opposing him.
Fred Salvucci: Do not, please do not reopen the environmental process. It's been murdered to get it nailed down. A month later, they reopened the environmental process.
NARR: Because of that little opening left by John DeVillars, the Scheme Z debate ultimately dragged on for another three years, with the lawsuits dragging on for years after that. A review committee was assembled, and in many ways it was a model of citizen participation. New designs were drawn up -- a grand total of 56 by the end -- but it was a lot of the same debates over tunnels versus bridges, over the length of weaving distances, and the number of ramps. The basic facts remained stubborn: there was no way to cross the Charles River that didn't cast a few shadows somewhere.
This is where the idea of 'Do No Harm' kind of hits a wall -- when a decision has to be made. When one set of interests has to be put over another and some harm has to be done. As Leah Brooks, the economist from earlier argues: we've created lots of mechanisms for continuing that debate, but not a lot of mechanisms for ending it. And in big projects like this one: time is money. By one estimate, every month of delay added $18 million dollars to the cost of the project, from inflation alone.
Once all the options for the Charles River were weighed and all the legal avenues were exhausted, the final design that remained earned the nickname 'Son of Z.' And if you look at the two side by side, you have to look pretty close to see the differences. It's still a bowl of spaghetti, or a scribble on a page, or an exploded pretzel, or whatever image you can come up with for lots of loops, lots of ramps. But there is one notable difference: through some clever engineering, the double cross was removed -- no one would have to cross the river twice.
It's impossible to calculate the full cost of this process, and of all the years of delays it caused for the project, but one number you see a lot is 1.3 billion dollars.
Matt Coogan: And a lot of people look at that process and say, boy, boy, they wasted a lot of paper.
NARR: For Matt Coogan, it was worth it.
Matt Coogan: The political process worked exactly the way it was supposed to do. Everybody got to be heard, and it's just a tribute to the fact that our government is laid out in a manner that works.
NARR: Salvucci though, can't see the Charles River crossing as a victory for the democratic process. For him, it's a symbol of how that process can be weaponized and manipulated.
Fred Salvucci: I still have nightmares about it. I mean, Z is the one thing that, that, uh, I've gone around and around, what could I have done differently.
Ian Coss: When you say you have nightmares, you mean you literally will still have dreams about schemes Z?
Fred Salvucci: Yeah, I, I still have dreams that the project hasn't happened yet and it's not gonna happen because it's been blocked. Those are not happy dreams. I occasionally have those still.
NARR: Nothing about this story is unique to Boston, or the Big Dig. This process of lawsuits, settlements, impact statements, mitigation packages, it's just how we build things – whether it's rapid transit, affordable housing, wind farms. It’s slow, it’s expensive. But the cost that’s harder to measure, and that you don't see in all of Leah Brook’s data, is the cost of the projects that didn’t survive this process at all. The ones that were scuttled, or the ones that no one even bothered to propose because they felt too daunting, too ambitious.
And when you look at the Big Dig that way, it starts to look a little different. It looks to me like a strange survivor, a creature out of its time, a moonshot of a project in an era of waning ambition, that somehow managed to drag itself to the starting line – all bruised and stuck with arrows, but still alive. No wonder it was the most expensive public works project in America. So many of the other projects that might have been more ambitious and more expensive, never made it off the drawing board. But this one did. And here's one last twist to think on…
AMBIENCE: And take a look at the Leonard P Zakim Bunker Hill Memorial Bridge on your right. That’s the focal part of our Central Artery Project, also known as the Big Dig.
NARR: The bridge that came out the other side of this story: it's now an icon of the city. People love it. If you've ever watched a Red Sox or Celtics game, you've probably seen it: the two concrete towers with cables fanning out like sails on a ship, all lit up at night against the skyline. It's classic Boston B-Roll footage. The truth is I think, most people don't notice the big ugly interchange right next to it. They just see the pretty bridge.
AMBIENCE: That’s the focal part of our Central Artery Project. Have you heard of it?
NARR: But I'm getting ahead of myself.
ARCHIVAL: Three and a half years ago, this project was just a promise.
NARR: As you may have noticed, we're four episodes in and no one has actually started digging.
ARCHIVAL: Not a shovel of dirt was turned. And the unpopular scheme Z was looming on the horizon.
NARR: But that's about to change, along with the cast of characters.
ARCHIVAL: There was a tremendous amount of pressure on this administration to take a walk on this project.
NARR: Salvucci is out, and a new administration is coming in.
ARCHIVAL: People were telling the governor, it's not worth it. You're never gonna get any of the credit. You're gonna get all the blame.
NARR: And in a lot of ways, Salvucci got out just in time -- before things got really messy.
ARCHIVAL: We decided to turn the promise into reality. Moving ahead was the right thing to do.
NARR: That's next time.
NARR: The show is produced by Isabel Hibbard and myself, Ian Coss. It’s edited by Lacy Roberts. The editorial supervisor is Stephanie Leydon with support for this episode from Elena Eberwein (Eber-wine). Mei Lei is the project manager, and the Executive Producer is Devin Maverick Robins.
Special thanks to Steven Kaiser, for sharing his personal archives, to Rick Azzalina for talking me through the finer points of the Scheme Z design, and to my duck boat tour guide, the Great Garibaldi. Finally, I want to note that Alice Wolf, the former mayor of Cambridge, has passed away since we recorded our interview. Her life is an incredible story of public service, and I’m grateful that she was able to share just a small piece of it with us.
To see archival footage and learn more about the show, go to GBHNews dot org. The artwork is by Matt Welch. Our closing song is “ETA” by Damon and Naomi.
The Big Dig is a production of GBH News and distributed by PRX.