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Summer/Fall 2002 Vol. 2 No. 2



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BRIEF TAKES


I-93 tunnel connector from I-90 under construction in Boston; courtesy Central Artery/Tunnel Project Getting the 'Big Dig'
Back on Track

For over a decade Boston's skyline has been punctuated not just by office towers but also by cranes, its streets have rumbled with dump trucks along with the usual urban din, and its commuters have had to navigate an ever-changing map of detours. These are only surface signs of an upheaval that's going on mainly underground -- a public works project that is the largest, most complex, and most expensive ever undertaken in the United States.

Known as the "Big Dig," the megaproject is creating an eight- to 10-lane underground expressway through the middle of Boston. It will replace the city's overburdened and deteriorating Central Artery, an elevated highway built in the 1950s that was meant to carry 75,000 vehicles each day but now shoulders a daily load of almost 200,000. The project, which is more than 80 percent complete, also includes a new tunnel to Logan airport that passes under Boston Harbor and was finished in 1995, as well as a two-bridge crossing of the Charles River. The larger of the two, the Leonard P. Zakim Bunker Hill Bridge, is the widest cable-stayed bridge in the world.

The Big Dig hopes to give relief to those who currently endure lengthy traffic jams on the Artery, which has an accident rate four times the average for urban interstates. The project also will transform the urban landscape, reconnecting downtown Boston with its waterfront and opening up about 200 acres of space throughout the city.

Delays and cost overruns have plagued the project, however, taxing not only motorists' patience but also pocketbooks across the United States. When ground was broken in 1991, the project was slated for completion in 1998 and estimated to cost about $6 billion; it is now expected to be completed in 2005 at a cost of $14.6 billion.

In an effort to keep the remainder of the project on schedule and within budget, the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority has asked the National Research Council to evaluate current management practices and structure. The panel will assess whether the management is using industry "best practices," and will also give suggestions for finishing the project in a timely and cost-effective way. The review is scheduled for release in early 2003.    --Sara Frueh

(See listing in New Projects & Publications for more information.)


A Stop to Underage Drinking

İEyeWire

When NBC announced about a year ago that it would start airing television ads for hard alcohol for the first time in 50 years, it drew protests from advocacy groups and legislators, leading the network to reverse its decision a few months later. Chief among the objections was that the ads would glamorize alcohol use to a very susceptible audience -- teen-agers and young adults.

Research has shown that youths who use alcohol, particularly those who drink a lot, take on added risks compared with their nondrinking peers. Kids who drink are more likely to get poor grades than their classmates who abstain. They are more likely to have sex at a younger age and to have multiple partners; they're also less likely to use condoms, raising their risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases. Drinking among college students has been linked to higher rates of accidental injuries and fatalities, physical assaults, date rape, and vandalism.

All 50 states and the District of Columbia have laws setting the minimum drinking age at 21, but kids who are underage report having access to alcohol anyway. And a considerable number of them are binge drinking: In 2000, almost one in five youths aged 12 to 20 had five or more drinks on the same occasion at least once in the past 30 days.

Communities and states have experimented with a range of approaches to preventing underage drinking such as programs aimed at swaying youth attitudes and choices, higher taxes on alcohol, and aggressive ID checks at bars and liquor stores. Advocates have urged the federal government to take a stronger lead, prompting Congress to ask the National Academies to recommend a prevention strategy.

The study committee, whose work got under way last summer, is examining the wide variety of existing efforts to assess what works and what doesn't. Based on what it finds to be successful, the committee will develop a strategy for reducing underage drinking. Its report is slated for release in May 2003.    --Sara Frueh

(See listing in New Projects & Publications for more information.)



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Copyright 2002 by the National Academy of Sciences