The Big Dig made things look easy. Sure, it cost a fortune, took forever, and caused countless engineering headaches. But for reach, the project can’t be touched: The demolition of the hugely disruptive highway unlocked billions of dollars in economic development, from North Station to South Boston and Chinatown. The Southeast Expressway came down, and the rest snapped into place. Easy.
Things are not so simple in Boston’s outlying neighborhoods. The generation of engineers that ran the old Southeast Expressway between Boston’s downtown and its waterfront sent scores of similar roadways barreling through the city’s neighborhoods. These roads are smaller in scale than the downtown highway was, but they’re no less disruptive. They’re only now beginning to fall, a decade after the old elevated Expressway gave way to a manicured surface boulevard. And chopping the Expressway’s offspring down to size is just the first step. The fact that these mini-highways are dying, in and of itself, means almost nothing. It’s what comes after the roadways’ demise that really counts.