In the “Just spend it — it’s only money,” or better yet, “Spend it anyway — even if you don’t have it” departments, proponents of finishing Interstate 526 just need to get over it and commit to spending up to $14.6 billion, which is what the city of Boston spent on its Big Dig project.
If jumping from $740 million to $14.6 billion sounds like a bit of a stretch, so what? Who cares? We’ll worry about it tomorrow. We’re going to go shopping for a new Ferrari, a Piaget watch, a Feadship yacht, Gulfstream jet, diamond cufflinks, Holland and Holland shotguns, and other luxury accessories, retool them into I-526 and party into a stupor of self-indulgence.
I’m joking, obviously. But to refresh everyone’s memory, the Big Dig was Boston’s 1991 to 2006 mega project designed to get rid of the unsightly and elevated Interstate 93 Central Artery that ran through the historic North End, put it underground, and connect it to other new underground road works and above-ground bridges. It has since become recognized as the most expensive public works project in U.S. history — by far.
The result is a spectacular feat of engineering and a thrilling thing to experience behind the wheel of a car but was plagued along the way by escalating costs, scheduling overruns, leaks, design flaws, charges of poor execution and use of substandard materials, criminal arrests and one death. At $14.6 billion, it had cost overruns of 190 percent. The Boston Globe reported that it will ultimately cost $22 billion, including interest, and that the project will not be paid off until 2038.
So here’s an idea: We should do our own version of the dig right here in Charleston by connecting West Ashley to Johns Island underground. That way everybody would be happy. The environmentalists would celebrate the absence of a completed beltway per se and cheer the preservation of the scenic Stono River marshlands. West Ashley residents would experience traffic decongestion and fewer property owners would be subject to the powers of eminent domain.
As for the price? We’ll worry about that later. Start digging!
Going through some of the mail and speaking of environmentalists, Dana Beach of the Coastal Conservation League has the following observation to make about S.C. politics using the “two cow” method: “You have two cows. The Legislature forms a milk oversight committee. The members are appointed by the speaker of the House and the president of the Senate. The committee decides that milk can only be sold to two companies in Florence. You feel fortunate to live in a conservative state that respects free market principles.”
And regarding conservatism, John Steinberger, former chairman of the Charleston County Republican Party, is a strong supporter of Maurice Washington. “He’s one of our precinct presidents and the only conservative in the mayor’s race,” he writes.
Retired Adm. Doug Plate enjoyed the column about nonagenarians. “At 96, I fall right in the middle of that continuum, so I can truly relate. I would only add that ‘vibrant’ is indeed a relative term.”
Elizabeth Bradham liked the column on debate topics for the mayoral candidates, “particularly your mention of the carriage industry as a debate topic for the mayoral candidates. And I had completely forgotten the Emily Dickinson poem, which I now have on my desk and have adopted as my daily mantra.”
Before last week’s Republican debate, “The Donald” had a comfortable lead in the polls and Dr. Ben Carson had made a surprising surge into second place. Both are entirely unqualified to be president of the United States — even less so than Barack Obama was when he was first elected — but have resonated with large numbers of voters due to, in Trump’s case, the calling out of namby-pamby political correctness and gridlock indecisiveness and, in Carson’s case, a sincere and living example of how applying conservative principles have made him the man he is.
Trump’s debate performance was entertaining but hollow and he has since been attacked — after a question-answer town hall meeting — for not defending President Obama and Muslims living in the United States.
Carly Fiorina seems to be coming on strong. I’m starting to get the feeling that the Republican dream team may be John Kasich and Marco Rubio (Ohio and Florida) or one of the outsiders (besides Trump) with either Kasich or Rubio as veep.
But I do reserve the right to feel differently next week.
Edward M. Gilbreth is a Charleston physician. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.