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Business Group Helped Keep Big Dig Project on Track

Mon December 29, 2003 - National Edition

BOSTON (AP) A report by a Harvard-affiliated school says a downtown Boston business group helped keep the massive Big Dig on track, despite huge cost overruns in the $14.6 billion construction project.

The report prepared for the Rappaport Institute for Greater Boston at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government said the efforts by the Artery Business Committee included lobbying politicians to refrain from criticizing the Central Artery/Third Harbor Tunnel project.

"ABC’s leaders helped keep the project from becoming a campaign issue in several ... state elections and they spearheaded two successful efforts to defeat anti-tolling measures that would have weakened the project’s finances," concludes the report obtained by The Boston Globe. The Globe said that report is expected to be publicly released within a short time.

Beginning as a small group in the late 1980s, ABC now has about 80 members and a $1 million budget. It’s members include developers and real estate magnates, bankers, lawyers and utility executives, many of whom stood to gain from the success of the Big Dig, the Globe said.

"We were in the trenches ... to make the project viable," Richard Dimino, ABC president, told the Globe. "The ABC filled a serious void in the leadership of the community. ... We all stand by the report."

The report said the ABC persuaded U.S. Sen. John F. Kerry to silence his criticisms of cost overruns, and planted an operative in the 1990 campaign of then-gubernatorial candidate John Silber.

Kerry, through a spokesman, said he did not back off because of pressure from the ABC, and said he in fact did make the project and its costs an issue frequently during the his 1996 re-election campaign. The senator had asked the U.S. transportation secretary to look into reports the project was over budget and behind schedule.

Norman Leventhal, a leader of ABC, is quoted in the report describing how he used his influence in 1990 with then Gov. Michael S. Dukakis to reign in the administration’s secretary of environmental affairs, John DeVillars, who was quoted in the Globe vowing to impose stringent environmental guidelines for the Big Dig.

In an interview with the Globe, DeVillars said his final environmental mitigation plans were substantially what he had originally proposed. He said he never felt pressure from Dukakis to soften them.

The report also said the ABC took credit for defeating a 1990 ballot question that would have derailed the Big Dig by removing much of its ability to hire engineering and other consultants.

The report was a joint study that was researched and written for the Rappaport Institute by David Luberoff of Harvard’s Taubman Center.

The Big Dig is burying two miles of Interstate 93 underneath downtown Boston, replacing an elevated highway. One of the largest and most expensive public infrastructure projects in U.S. history, it is expected to be completed by 2005.

The project’s cost estimate ballooned from $2.6 billion to $14.6 billion, and it was scheduled to be completed years ago.