Ernst fired as Big Dig chief engineer

Ernst is the latest to be dismissed over light fixture collapse

Safety News The Boston Globe August 03, 2011
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The Massachusetts governor’s office yesterday fired Helmut Ernst, who served as chief engineer for the Big Dig, according to a report in The Boston Globe.

Ernst was suspended last month for his mishandling of the incident in February when a corroded, 110-lb light fixture broke free and crashed to the pavement in the O’Neill Tunnel.

“It was clear that we lost confidence—I lost confidence—in him, and given some of the issues, someone in a leadership position like that, I would expect more,’’ state Transportation Secretary Jeffrey Mullan told reporters yesterday at the state’s highway operations center in South Boston.

Ernst is accused of failing to inform his bosses and the public about the light fixture collapse until weeks after the incident. Corrosion of light fixtures in the Big Dig tunnels could have posed a safety hazard to Boston drivers.

Ernst has said that he called his boss, Frank Tramontozzi, about the light fixture collapse the day after the incident. Ernst also said he brought up the incident at a senior staff meeting. Tramontozzi, who was forced to quit his position as highway administrator in March, denied he received such a call from Ernst, and other senior staff members said they don’t remember Ernst talking about the incident at the meeting.

Mullan said he had offered Ernst other jobs within the transportation department, but Ernst turned them down.

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