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The Big Dig

Author: GBH

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There is a cynicism that hangs over the topic of American infrastructure – whether it’s high-speed rail or off-shore wind – it feels like this country can’t build big things anymore. No one project embodies that cynicism quite like what Bostonians call ‘The Big Dig.’ Infamous for its ever-increasing price tag, this massive highway tunneling effort was once ridiculed as the Big Mess, the Big Hole, the Big Pig, the Big Lie. But now, decades later the story looks more complicated. So how did the narrative around this project go so horribly wrong? And what lessons can it offer for the ambitious projects of today? The nine episode series is produced by GBH News and hosted by Ian Coss. Producers are Ian Coss and Isabel Hibbard. Editor is Lacy Roberts. Executive Producer is Devin Maverick Robins. Editorial Advisor is Stephanie Leydon with fact checking by Lisa Wardle. The Project Manager is Meiqian He.
13 Episodes
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Can America still do big things? Can we build the ambitious projects we will need to survive climate change and improve our cities? This 9-part series looks for clues in the story of the Big Dig – one of the most notoriously troubled infrastructure projects in American history. The nine episode series is produced by GBH News. Credits: Host and scriptwriter: Ian Coss Executive Producer: Devin Maverick Robins Producers: Isabel Hibbard and Ian Coss Editor: Lacy Roberts Editorial Advisor: Stephanie Leydon Fact Checker: Lisa Wardle Scoring and Music Supervision: Ian Coss Project Manager: Meiqian He
Part 1: We Were Wrong

Part 1: We Were Wrong

2023-09-2754:445

There is a strange irony behind the Big Dig: the most expensive highway project ever built in America began with a man who hated highways. This is the story of Fred Salvucci’s journey into activism, during what is perhaps the most transformative anti-highway movement in the nation’s history. Credits: Host and scriptwriter: Ian Coss Executive Producer: Devin Maverick Robins Producers: Isabel Hibbard and Ian Coss Editor: Lacy Roberts Editorial Advisor: Stephanie Leydon Fact Checker: Lisa Wardle Scoring and Music Supervision: Ian Coss Project Manager: Meiqian He
Part 2: Unholy Alliance

Part 2: Unholy Alliance

2023-09-2752:491

In the early 1970s a radical idea took shape: tearing down Boston’s elevated downtown highway, and rebuilding it underground. But making it happen will require a grand bargain between two competing tunnel projects, and between bitter enemies. Credits: Host and scriptwriter: Ian Coss Executive Producer: Devin Maverick Robins Producers: Isabel Hibbard and Ian Coss Editor: Lacy Roberts Editorial Advisor: Stephanie Leydon Fact Checker: Lisa Wardle Scoring and Music Supervision: Ian Coss Project Manager: Meiqian He
The Big Dig needs federal funding. House Speaker Tip O’Neill is determined to get it; President Ronald Reagan is determined to stop it – setting up a final showdown in one of the great political rivalries of the 20th century. Credits: Host and scriptwriter: Ian Coss Executive Producer: Devin Maverick Robins Producers: Isabel Hibbard and Ian Coss Editor: Lacy Roberts Editorial Advisor: Stephanie Leydon Fact Checker: Lisa Wardle Scoring and Music Supervision: Ian Coss Project Manager: Meiqian He
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. Credits: Host and scriptwriter: Ian Coss Executive Producer: Devin Maverick Robins Producers: Isabel Hibbard and Ian Coss Editor: Lacy Roberts Editorial Advisor: Stephanie Leydon Fact Checker: Lisa Wardle Scoring and Music Supervision: Ian Coss Project Manager: Meiqian He
In 1991, the Big Dig is handed off to a new leader – the brash, aggressive, hatchet-toting Jim Kerasiotes – who makes it clear he plans to shake things up. The one thing he can’t shake is the equally aggressive private company managing the project. Now they have to work together. Credits: Host and scriptwriter: Ian Coss Executive Producer: Devin Maverick Robins Producers: Isabel Hibbard and Ian Coss Editor: Lacy Roberts Editorial Advisor: Stephanie Leydon Fact Checker: Lisa Wardle Scoring and Music Supervision: Ian Coss Project Manager: Meiqian He
As work progresses through the 1990s and the tunnels take shape, the true cost of the Big Dig remains unknown to the public, until a series of revelations pulls down the curtain and shakes confidence in the whole project. Credits: Host and scriptwriter: Ian Coss Executive Producer: Devin Maverick Robins Producers: Isabel Hibbard and Ian Coss Editor: Lacy Roberts Editorial Advisor: Stephanie Leydon Fact Checker: Lisa Wardle Scoring and Music Supervision: Ian Coss Project Manager: Meiqian He
By the year 2000, the Big Dig has passed through many hands, but in its final years a power struggle spills into public view – over who will determine the project’s fate, and who will take responsibility for its mistakes. Credits: Host and scriptwriter: Ian Coss Executive Producer: Devin Maverick Robins Producers: Isabel Hibbard and Ian Coss Editor: Lacy Roberts Editorial Advisor: Stephanie Leydon Fact Checker: Lisa Wardle Scoring and Music Supervision: Ian Coss Project Manager: Meiqian He
Just as the project turns the corner towards completion, its entire legacy becomes clouded. The tunnels are leaking, concrete suppliers are being arrested, and everyday drivers are forced to wonder: are these tunnels safe? Credits: Host and scriptwriter: Ian Coss Executive Producer: Devin Maverick Robins Producers: Isabel Hibbard and Ian Coss Editor: Lacy Roberts Editorial Advisor: Stephanie Leydon Fact Checker: Lisa Wardle Scoring and Music Supervision: Ian Coss Project Manager: Meiqian He
It’s been fifty years since the Big Dig was first conceived, thirty years since construction began, more than a dozen years since it was completed – and the final twist is: the project has largely delivered on its promises. How do we reconcile that reality with the scandal and outrage we’ve heard so much about? Credits: Host and scriptwriter: Ian Coss Executive Producer: Devin Maverick Robins Producers: Isabel Hibbard and Ian Coss Editor: Lacy Roberts Editorial Advisor: Stephanie Leydon Fact Checker: Lisa Wardle Scoring and Music Supervision: Ian Coss Project Manager: Meiqian He
An episode from our colleagues at The Frontline Dispatch: Documenting the Siege of Mariupol 20 Days in Mariupol is an unflinching, first-hand account of the early days of Russia’s invasion of the port city of Mariupol, which remains under Russian occupation to this day. Ukrainian-born director and journalist Mstyslav Chernov and his colleagues from the Associated Press were the last international journalists to remain in Mariupol as Russian troops attacked. His new film, from FRONTLINE and the AP, draws on Chernov’s news dispatches and his reflections as he documented the devastation of his home country for the world to see. Chernov sat down with FRONTLINE editor-in-chief and executive producer Raney Aronson-Rath and editor and producer Michelle Mizner in February 2023, as we marked the grim anniversary of the war in Ukraine. In this episode of The FRONTLINE Dispatch, recorded at the Boston Public Library, Chernov recounts the decision to go to Mariupol, how he and Mizner created a documentary feature from his Pulitzer Prize-winning journalism, and what he hopes people will take away from the film — today, and in years to come. “I know that we form our understanding of the current events of the world around us by watching news and consuming news,” Chernov said. “ But [we] form our understanding of our past with documentary films… Film is a medium which carries meaning across time, for generations to come.” An earlier version of this episode was published in July. You can watch 20 Days in Mariupol on FRONTLINE’s website, FRONTLINE’s YouTube Channel, the PBS App, and the PBS Documentaries Prime Video Channel. Want to be notified every time a new podcast episode drops? Sign up for The FRONTLINE Dispatch newsletter.
An episode from our colleagues at Detours: The Hardest Fact I Ever Checked Adam Monahan, producer for GBH’s Antiques Roadshow, attempts to verify what could be one of the most valuable objects to ever appear on the program: a flag from John F. Kennedy’s famed navy boat, the PT-109. With the help of a chemist, an appraiser, an author and a curator (oh, and his mom too), Adam tries to determine whether or not we have a national treasure on our hands.
An episode from a new GBH News Podcast about reparations: "When a City Tries to Heal Itself" Boston, a city entrenched in the history of the American Revolution, creates a task force to explore the city’s history of slavery and economic discrimination and to consider reparations for Black citizens. The effort is delicately balanced to navigate political challenges – and yet it is immediately beset with delay and mismanaging, leading some city residents to wonder whether Boston is really serious. ——— Credits: Host, Producer and Writer: Saraya Wintersmith Senior Producer: Jerome Campbell Editorial Assistant: Mara Mellits Editor: Paul Singer Production oversight: Lee Hill Mixing & Sound Design: David Goodman and Gary Mott Theme Song and original music: Malik Williams Artwork: Matt Welch and Mamie-Hawa Bawoh Project Manager: Meiqian He Managing Producer for GBH Podcasts: Devin Maverick Robins
Comments (6)

ncooty

Ugh, another podcast that treats race and socio-economic status as the same thing. They should've started by explaining how injustice is transferred across generations via pigmentation. That is, why are people who never were enslaved due reparations? Economic disadvantage isn't pigmented. If economic disadvantage is the problem, then we should address systems of economic disadvantage for everyone, not just people with particular pigmentation or ancestry. And why not start with American Indians?

Mar 3rd
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Abdul aziz

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Feb 9th
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Steve M.

I love this podcast. I was a child when they began the big dig and my dad's family was from Boston. I remember the hullabaloo even though I was only 10 when it began. The backstory is fascinating to this son of an engineer.

Jan 10th
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ncooty

Great series overall. Thanks for making it.

Nov 15th
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ncooty

@23:57: It seems the host is bad at math.

Oct 22nd
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ncooty

@4:10+: Unintelligible

Oct 22nd
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