The Big Dig


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.



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

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Our Editor's Take

The Big Dig podcast investigates the story of a transportation project that became known as the "Big Mess." Host and producer Ian Coss explores this tumultuous tale over nine episodes.

When a new Green Line station opened on Boston's subway, it was a big event. All the important local politicians showed up. The project was over 30 years in the making, costing more than two billion dollars. Podcast host Ian's immediate reaction is, "What a joke!" Ian cannot believe the time and expense it took to create a single subway station. He thinks it indicates Americans' inability to complete large, ambitious infrastructure projects.

In The Big Dig, Ian investigates the story behind the notorious Boston project. He searches for clues on what went wrong with this challenging venture. Boston's Big Dig planned to replace existing infrastructure with innovative tunnels. This radical idea would help to transform one of America's great cities.

The first podcast episode starts with activist Fred Salvucci. How did a man who hated highways become the architect of one of America's most expensive highway projects? Fred reveals how, as a teenager, a new highway destroyed his grandmother's home. So, Fred decided to build a better, more humane road network. How did good intentions lead to one of the city's most disastrous projects?

House Speaker Tip O'Neill and President Ronald Reagan fought over funding. Environmentalists started protesting. Ian explores how the plan for a humane highway went awry. As work progressed in the 1990s, the project was subject to astounding cost overruns. What was the actual cost of The Big Dig?

The Big Dig podcast investigates how great intentions led to disastrous results. Ian is cynical from the start. He talks to those who were part of the project and those who rejected it. What is his conclusion, and what can America learn from it? Listeners will find out the answers to these questions.

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Introducing: The Frontline Dispatch
Introducing: The Frontline Dispatch
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.