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Big Dig Bonus

Big Dig BonusThe open spaces created by Boston's Big Dig - if planned well - will be worth at least $1 billion to property owners, says new research from Tufts.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [07.01.02] The largest and most challenging highway project ever undertaken in U.S. history, Boston's Big Dig will consume $15 billion in construction costs and over 15 years to complete. While the massive construction project carries a hefty price tag, it's money well spent - and not just to relieve traffic congestion. The green spaces created by the submerged central artery will be worth $1 billion alone, say Tufts experts.

"When the Big Dig is done, Boston will have an unprecedented opportunity to build new public spaces in the center of the city," two experts from Tufts' Department of Environmental and Public Policy and Planning wrote in a Boston Globe op-ed. "The design, management and cost of the new open spaces have been the subject of lengthy public discussion. However, almost nothing has been said about the substantial economic value of open spaces."

According to research by Kayo Tajima - a graduate student at Tufts - and professor Frank Ackerman, the large stretch of open land created by sinking Boston's aging elevated central artery under ground will have a major impact on property values around the project.

"There is a billion-dollar bonus to Boston property owners," the pair wrote in the Globe. "The value of real estate depends on 'location, location, location.'"

In a city, good location is defined by two major characteristics, wrote Tajima and Ackerman. After studying 16,000 condominium units in nine Boston zip codes, the Tufts researchers found the strongest correlation between value and distance from highways and parks.

"We found that if you could pick up your property and move it twice as close to the nearest park, the value would go up by 6 percent," they wrote. "If you picked up and moved twice as far from the nearest highway, your property value would go up by 5 percent."

For land owners around the Big Dig, the huge construction project will basically do both.

"Applying these standards to all the properties in the Artery neighborhoods - the North End, the wharf district, and Chinatown - shows that removal of the highways is worth three-quarters of a billion dollars, and creation of the proposed parks is worth another quarter billion," they wrote in the Globe.

And that still doesn't take into account the economic impact of increased tourism, commuter and residential traffic through the green spaces.

But the full investment in the public spaces must be made, say the Tufts experts.

"Once the Big Dig is finished ... there will be a natural tendency to avoid any further costs and complicated projects," Tajima and Ackerman wrote in the Globe. "But it is well worth it, even in narrowly economic terms, to take the final step and build high quality parks, as originally planned. The value of the parks to nearby property owners is far greater than any estimate of the costs to construct and maintain the parks."

However, the increased property values come with some responsibility to the owners of neighboring land.

"Since nearby properties will increase so markedly in value, it seems reasonable to ask property owners in the Artery neighborhoods to contribute to the modest cost for park maintenance," they wrote in the Globe opinion piece.

The rare opportunity to shape Boston through new inner-city green spaces is an important one, say the experts.

"Building new parks has costs, to be sure - but it has even bigger benefits to the city of Boston," they wrote in the Globe.

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