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A new podcast from GBH, The Big Dig, takes me back to my time at Harvard in the early 1990s, when the construction disruption was an everyday conversation. Only three episodes in so far, but this podcast is a fascinating tale of how the politics of big infrastructure spending used to be done, when compromise was possible.
The podcast starts with the history of the Superhighways Act, where a tax on gasoline funded the construction of four lane highways across and up and down the United States. Encouraged by Standard Oil and the auto industry, the aim was to have easy access from the suburbs to the city centre, as well as connecting cities.
The legacy of this Act is an aging highway system and concrete jungles dividing too many downtown areas. Boston bucked the trend when communities objected when their houses and way of life were being bulldozed to make way for the inner ring road. Funding was diverted to public transport, making Boston one of the easiest cities to get around when a penniless student.
There is so much in The Big Dig that is relevant today – the challenges of taking the values of communities into infrastructure design, the problems of funding and financing infrastructure, and learning from and not repeating the mistakes that go with big complex infrastructure builds.
A blast from the past, but the lessons on persistence, community engagement and political compromise are so relevant achieving the clean energy transition goals of the more recent Inflation Reduction Act.