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Or, as a construction billboard put it, ''If Rome were built in a day, we would have hired their contractor. At any rate, in a city where the proportion of residents who walk to work or use public transportation is higher than in most urban areas, the siege hasn't restricted the mobility of most Bostonians.

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Public transportation and city sidewalks have served commuters well, and property values continue to soar amid the din of construction. What remains less certain is the future of the block corridor of land in the middle of downtown where the highway once stood. After countless community meetings, the new corridor's management is still unknown. Which agency or consortium of agencies, which governmental unit, which system or group will, cooperatively or separately, plan and manage life after dismantling has yet to be decided.

Those looking for a splendid urban or natural makeover of the land beneath the old expressway are already worried.

Some new parks are slated on the periphery and the shadow of the elevated highway will vanish. But six lanes of roadway packed with traffic, including some toxin-spewing trucks, will continue to obstruct access to Boston's harbor even after the highway comes down.

Car fumes from the tunnel will still issue forth from new downtown vents. And, at a time when the Northeast is suffering from poor air quality and gridlock, the massive project somehow never managed to include a rail link beneath the tunnel to connect North and South stations.

No one would argue that Boston will not be a better place on that day when the old artery becomes a kit of wasted parts.

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Around the country, other Americans are reassessing their urban environment, turning to context-sensitive design and alternative forms of transportation. The renewal of federal funding in the transportation bill next year may see more money for rail transportation. In the meantime, Boston offers a cautionary tale about how difficult it is to re-create a walking city in a nation long dominated by the car. An Op-Ed article on Sept.

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