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When Boston was bold

Once upon a time, big vision led to the Big Dig.

An engineer perched on a roof in City Square in Charlestown to survey construction of twin tunnels for the Central Artery project north of downtown Boston on Dec. 12, 1991. The tunnels would replace the elevated connections from the Artery to Interstate 93 and Route 1, which were among the most congested and treacherous stretches of road in the state.John Tlumacki
Heather Hopp-Bruce

To be sure, there were headaches. There were delays that spanned presidential administrations. There was budgetary bloat by the billions. The Big Dig was not a perfect public works project. But it was ambitious, visionary, and a feat of engineering that transformed the city over the course of a quarter century, from the planning phase in 1982, to the ground breaking in 1991, and through the mammoth project’s completion in 2007.

Just a few of the Big Dig’s highlights: 161 miles of highway, half of which are in tunnels; more than 45 parks and public spaces; shoreline restoration in the Charles River Basin, Fort Point Channel, Rumney Marsh, Spectacle Island, and large stretches of the Boston Harborwalk; five miles of slurry walls, some of which rest on bedrock up to 120 feet deep, beneath city streets; the Leonard P. Zakim Memorial Bridge; and the Green Line Extension, completed in March — 32 years after the Conservation Law Foundation reached a landmark settlement with the state to lock in public transit enhancements to mitigate emissions from the Big Dig highway expansions.


Let the following photographs from the Globe’s archives inspire the city and region to dream boldly again.

Six lanes of traffic once snaked through the city — a sinuous, traffic-choked, over-capacity mess that cut off the North End from downtown and created gridlock along neighborhood side streets. Ryan, David L Globe Staff
One year into the Big Dig, on Sept. 17, 1992, work was well underway on the first phase of the Central Artery / Third Harbor Tunnel project, named for Ted Williams. The tunnel represented one of the most complex and ambitious phases of the endeavor, connecting South Boston to Logan International Airport and carrying the Massachusetts Turnpike deep under Boston Harbor. David L. Ryan/Globe Staff
Workers swept the floor and installed wall tiles inside the future Ted Williams Tunnel on May 27, 1994. It would be another nine years before the public would be able to drive through the tunnel.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff
Construction continued at the future Ted Williams Tunnel in September 1994. Lane Turner/Globe Staff
An aerial view from July 16, 2007, of the Rose Kennedy Greenway, where once a grayed-out ribbon of bumper-to-bumper traffic crept along.Ryan
Where once there was gridlock, now there is joy. Pictured: A summer night of free dance lessons and on the Rose Kennedy Greenway.Robert Torres

Kelly Horan is the deputy editor of Ideas. She can be reached at kelly.horan@globe.com.