Big Dig under investigation, remains closed

News The New York Times and Chicago Tribune July 13, 2006
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The head of the agency overseeing Boston's Big Dig highway project ordered a review of the entire metro highway system Wednesday, July 12, after investigators looking into the fatal collapse of concrete ceiling slabs found 60 more questionable areas inside the same tunnel, the Chicago Tribune reported.

Initial inspections revealed dozens of signs of bolts loosening and other potential failures in the eastbound connector tunnel, part of the main route to Boston's Logan Airport, Turnpike officials and the Big Dig project manager said.

Trouble spots were also found in the tunnel's westbound lanes, according to officials.

Michael Lewis, the project director for the Big Dig, said bolts appeared to be loose, that gaps existed or that other parts of the ceiling system seemed "comprised" in at least 60 places in the tunnel, the New York Times reported.

"We're evaluating each of these individual sites," Massachusetts Turnpike Authority Chairman Matthew Amorello said. "The tunnel system is safe," he added.

Thomas Reilly, the Massachusetts attorney general, said that the problems with ceiling anchor bolts in the tunnel had been identified in 1999, when the ceiling was built, and that his office was investigating to see whether a plan to correct those problems was carried out, the New York Times reported.

Numerous investigations are under way, including those by the U.S. attorney and the Massachusetts State Police, according to the New York Times. Reilly said that he had sent subpoenas to the Big Dig project manager, Bechtel/Parsons Brinckerhoff, Modern Continental, the contractor on the connector, the turnpike authority and the tunnel's design firm.

U.S. Attorney General Michael Sullivan, whose office has been conducting a yearlong investigation into problems with the Big Dig highway project, told the Associated Press that his investigators are turning their attention to whether contractors involved in that part of the system delivered the goods and services they promised.

"We obviously want to identify any public safety risks...but also to ensure that what the government paid for--and through tax dollars--is in fact what was delivered," said Sullivan.

The death of the woman whose car was crushed by the 12-tons of concrete ceiling also could lead to charges of negligent homicide, said Reilly, who is treating the section of eastbound I-90 as a crime scene, the Chicago Tribune reported.

The section of the tunnel ceiling that collapsed was near the entrance to the Ted Williams Tunnel, which runs under Boston Harbor to the airport. That segment of the tunnel was completed in 1996, but the ceiling panels were installed in 1999, the Chicago Tribune reported.

Construction on the Big Dig began in 1991, and was the most expensive highway project in U.S. history. The project buried I-93 beneath downtown Boston and extended the Massachusetts Turnpike to the airport. The Big Dig gained national notoriety for its high costs, years of traffic congestion and a recent criminal investigation into the concrete suppliers and leakage problems that developed in another Big Dig tunnel.

Amorello said the connector tunnel would remain closed indefinitely to ensure motorists' safety.

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