During the 1950s, Boston bulldozed wide swaths of commercial and residential structures to build the Central Artery, an elevated expressway running north-south through the city. This proved such an aesthetic and traffic nightmare that the city began the Big Dig in the 1990s, spending billions to replace the Central Artery with tunnels. Cranston (Chan) Rogers ’50 served as a project manager for both projects during his almost half-century career as a civil engineer.
As the Central Artery sliced through downtown, public protests arose against so much destruction for such an eyesore. Commissioner of Public Works John Volpe and Rogers, a contractor, hit on the idea of putting the segment that Rogers was managing by South Station underground. Although the price of a tunnel, which Rogers estimated at $18 million, was about twice that of an elevated road, his plan won approval. This section was the only part of the national highway system to be put underground—and was the widest vehicular tunnel in the world when it was built.
The $15 billion Big Dig project replaced the elevated highway with tunnels topped by parks. Rogers proposed adopting a new European method called tunnel jacking to widen the tricky segment under South Station without rerouting its 14 active passenger loading platforms or its complex network of tracks. “I managed the whole team jacking the tunnels,” recalls Rogers, who enjoyed the work immensely.
Rogers says his structural engineering work under Professor John Wilbur ’26, SM ’28, ScD ’33, was key preparation for his career. In recognition of his work, he was named a Distinguished Member of the American Society of Civil Engineers.
After Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, Rogers came out of retirement at age 80 and joined Lou Capozzoli PhD ’50, in New Orleans to help residents and the Army Corps of Engineers dispose of the tremendous amount of storm-generated debris.
More recently, Rogers has accompanied author Suzie Davidson as she lectures about her book I Refused to Die: Stories of Boston-Area Holocaust Survivors and Soldiers Who Liberated the Concentration Camps of World War II. Rogers was a 20-year-old sergeant when his unit freed the Dachau concentration camp in Germany, and he has spoken about his experiences to many groups.
Rogers and his wife, Francine, are the parents of eight and grandparents of five. A longtime U.S. Army reservist, he retired as a colonel. He is currently president of the 103rd Infantry Division World War II Association.
This article originally appeared in the July/August issue of MIT Technology Review magazine.