Transportation Megaprojects: Comparing Project Management and Oversight Approaches: Three Recent, Well-Known Initiatives-Boston's Big Dig, Denver's International Airport, and Colorado's T-REX-Vary in Methods and Success

By Haynes, Wendy; Whipple, Andrew | The Public Manager, Summer 2009 | Go to article overview

Transportation Megaprojects: Comparing Project Management and Oversight Approaches: Three Recent, Well-Known Initiatives-Boston's Big Dig, Denver's International Airport, and Colorado's T-REX-Vary in Methods and Success


Haynes, Wendy, Whipple, Andrew, The Public Manager


The desire to build persists. Since the earliest known civilizations, government leaders, aided by their public managers, have constructed large public works projects. Whether we look at the remains of the ancient Assyrians or the more recent structures of the Greeks and Romans, the inspiration to design and build large urban projects continues. This desire for large public infrastructure projects, "megaprojects" as they are popularly known, remains today When such ideas are wed to the appropriate political, social, and economic conditions, large publicly funded projects emerge. The current political and economic environment lends itself to more government-sponsored megaprojects, and public managers would benefit from being conversant in these themes and ideas.

In this article, we investigate megaprojects and project management structures. We examine Boston's Central Artery/Third Harbor Tunnel (CA/T) project (the "Big Dig"), the Denver International Airport (DIA) project, and Colorado's Transportation Expansion (T-REX) project and consider some of the factors that may contribute to megaproject success. Constructing megaprojects requires megacollaboration. The complexity and size of these projects also require public entities to hire private firms to perform much of the design and construction work, thus creating public-private partnerships. Among other things, this article looks at the implications for publicly funded megaprojects, whether greater public oversight necessarily means less efficiency and whether one structure is "best."

Three Models

Big Dig

Boston, Massachusetts, hosted the Big Dig, as it was colloquially dubbed during design and construction. This transportation megaproject garnered much local press and presents a unique model for consideration. Although the Big Dig is often considered one unified project, it was actually three separate projects rolled into one by political expediency. During its life cycle, the project was managed through two distinct project management structures.

Engineers and planners replaced a six-lane elevated highway, running through the center of Boston, with an eight- to ten-lane underground expressway beneath the existing road in an effort to address monumental traffic congestion and air quality problems. In addition to this challenge, the megaprcject included building a modern bridge spanning the Charles River and linking downtown Boston to Logan Airport by way of a new roadway beneath South Boston and across the Boston Harbor by way of an immersed tube tunnel (Figure 1). The project received funding from federal and state monies (about 60/40) and was substantially completed in late 2007 for nearly $15 billion.

Informed observers, however, question the definition of "substantially completed"--especially in light of media reports of a two thousand-item list of things yet to be done on the project. Moreover, a collapse of ceiling tiles in one tunnel in 2006, which led to the death of a motorist, raised questions as to whether the Big Dig was completed safely. Nevertheless, the final cost is a far cry from that projected in the mid-1980s when project managers estimated the cost at $2.6 billion and looked for completion toward the end of 1998. A decade later, the total project cost was pegged at about $22 billion, including the interest that will be paid over the next several decades on the bonds issued to fund the project. The Massachusetts legislature has recently considered bailout strategies for rescuing the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority from the crushing interest payment burden it now faces.

[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]

Stakeholders in this project included members of the business community, neighborhood organizations (North End, Chinatown, etc.), highway users, environmentalists, design and construction firms, property owners along the Big Dig corridor, and others. Of the myriad stakeholders, several showed an outstanding level of engagement and leadership on the project. …

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