May 16, 2003

The Central Artery/Tunnel project (the "Big Dig") is almost open. The case against it, however, is far from being closed.

The I-90 Connector, which takes the Massachusetts Turnpike from its former terminus at I-93 and connects it to the Ted Williams Tunnel en route to Logan Airport, handled traffic for the first time on Jan. 18.

The Central Artery/Tunnel project (the "Big Dig") is almost open. The case against it, however, is far from being closed.

The I-90 Connector, which takes the Massachusetts Turnpike from its former terminus at I-93 and connects it to the Ted Williams Tunnel en route to Logan Airport, handled traffic for the first time on Jan. 18.

The project's tattered reputation took another hit almost a month later when the Boston Globe published a three-part series about the mismanagement of the job by Bechtel/Parsons Brinckerhoff (B/PB), the private management consultant that has overseen the Big Dig on behalf of the commonwealth since 1985. The accusations led to the Massachusetts Inspector General's stepping in with its own report on the Globe findings. Roads & Bridges selected five key Globe accusations, along with B/PB's defense and the Inspector General's analysis. In no way do these findings reflect the opinion of Roads & Bridges magazine. To review the report in its entirety go to and click on "What's New?"

Responsibility for cost overruns

Globe finding: The project ran up "$1.6 billion in construction cost overruns," of which at least $1.1 billion was tied to B/PB errors.

B/PB reply: The Globe contends that cost overruns totaling $1.1 billion are B/PB's fault and responsibility. Virtually every construction project faces unanticipated challenges requiring contract modifications, known as change orders, that are not the result of neglect, mistakes or abuse. The changes in Boston, approved by the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority (MTA), reflected a host of legitimate circumstances, including the discovery of unforeseen underground obstacles such as undocumented utilities and old wharves buried in landfill, state-mandated changes in the scope of project work and schedule adjustments caused by factors such as public requests for noise or traffic mitigation.

The $1.6 billion in question--which comes from B/PB's own charts--reflects legitimate modifications to original project construction contracts and cannot be construed as errors. Examples of these change orders include:

* $321 million in project scope changes;

* $263 million in design development;

*  $357 million to cope with what engineers call "differing site conditions";

*  $152 million for unforeseeable schedule adjustments;

*   $85 million in approved costs to deal with third parties, such as utilities and property owners adjacent to the project; and

* $460 million in unclassified costs.

Inspector General's response: The Inspector General's Office strongly concurs with the Globe conclusion that $1.1 billion in cost overruns are linked to contracts begun before designs were completed and contracts with cost overruns related to differing site conditions.

Our review concludes that more than $730 million in contract modifications were associated with construction contracts initiated prior to final design approval. Our review also found that more than $340 million in contract modifications resulted from contracts that involved differing site conditions. In total, this represents more than $1.07 billion in cost overruns associated with contracts that were either initiated prior to final design or were later modified due to differing site conditions.

B/PB stated that the Globe had found that "at least $1.1 billion was directly B/PB's fault." What the Globe actually said was that $1.1 billion in construction cost overruns are tied to B/PB mistakes. 

The Inspector General's Office concludes that at least $1.07 billion in cost overruns are tied to contracts with incomplete designs or that encountered site conditions that were not planned for. According to B/PB, none of these overruns are attributable to B/PB's work.

In addition to the $1.07 billion in cost overruns, the project also incurred many millions of dollars more in administrative costs associated with these overruns. This $1.07 billion figure represents a major portion of the universe of potential cost recovery claims that will become the subject of the major cost recovery initiative under way at the MTA. 

B/PB defends itself by claiming that it employed "fast track" construction methods, thus purporting to explain why so many contracts were initiated prior to completion of final designs.

The Inspector General's Office has literally reviewed hundreds of thousands of Big Dig documents during the past 12 years and is not aware of any verification of B/PB's claim that a fast track system was implemented to supercede B/PB's contractual obligations to promulgate preliminary designs and to accept or reject final designs to facilitate construction.  

Similarly, B/PB defends itself by stating that $357 million in cost overruns were incurred due to unexpected "differing site conditions." The Inspector General's Office concludes that in many cases, the categorization of cost overruns as differing site conditions has been used by B/PB as a cover story for its failure to perform its contractually obligated duties to assess site conditions during the design stage. Thus, B/PB's ready claim of  fast track and differing site conditions masks, in many cases, the true nature of the overruns and obfuscates B/PB's culpability for its share of responsibility for these cost overruns. 

The Inspector General's Office and the State Auditor's Office, as is detailed in this report, have presented to B/PB and the MTA many instances wherein cost overruns were related to design changes that should have been part of the original design. The Inspector General's Office concludes that what B/PB and the MTA call fast tracking has often been nothing more than spending millions for catching up to the Big Dig construction schedule because of prior design-related delays. 

Contractual responsibilities

Globe finding: During the 17 years it has managed the Big Dig, Bechtel has neglected to perform basic work called for in its contracts. 

B/PB reply: As management consultant to the MTA on the Big Dig project, B/PB has been responsible for preliminary design, management of the final design process and construction by other consultants and contractors, and reporting on the proj- ect's overall cost and schedule. The state has always maintained authority and responsibility for policy-level decision making, direction of the   project and oversight of B/PB.

The state hired other engineering and construction firms to take responsibility for final design and actual construction. Each designer and contractor is responsible to MTA for its cost, schedule and work quality. B/PB does estimate the costs of individual contracts; monitors them for adherence to budget, schedule and contract terms; provide quality assurance services; and oversee the contractors' safety programs. B/PB is not responsible for checking design submittals and is not responsible for their content--yet the Globe blames B/PB for any and all alleged flaws in the final design of the project.

Inspector General's response: The Inspector General concurs with the Globe finding and believes that B/PB misrepresents its contractual role. Based on B/PB's response it would appear that B/PB has been paid nearly $2 billion to simply monitor these design contracts, process payments and pass documents through to the MTA. For $2 billion, the commonwealth expected B/PB to do more than shuffle paper. The Inspector General's review of B/PB's contract with the commonwealth uncovered several points, including the following:

* The first line of the contract specifically states that B/PB should "manage the design and construction of the" project;

* The contract section "Final Design" states that B/PB "shall review and submit for Department approval all SDC designs and work products for:

1. Conformance with project design criteria, standards, specifications, budgets, schedules, environmental commitments and other requirements;

2. Conformance with accepted professional standards for quality and other professional standards as defined by the department;

3. Overall coordination between disciplines and different design packages;

4. Consistency with final designpackages completed by others: and

5. Consistency with the preliminary design"; and

*  The contract allows for B/PB to perform final design work as directed by the MTA. In some instances, B/PB did perform final design work and did sign and stamp drawings.

Inaccurate designs

Globe finding: Construction on many of the Big Dig's major contracts began with incomplete and inaccurate designs, causing costly delays.

B/PB reply: All project designs were essentially complete when construction began, with one major exception: the ongoing mechanical and electrical design work at the time the mainline tunnel and ventilation building contracts were signed.

The individual section design consultants, not B/PB, signed off on the design drawings associated with their contracts. They are the responsible designers of record.

Inspector General's response: The Inspector General does not believe B/PB's response is accurate. The hundreds of millions of dollars worth of claims relating to design development issues and the hundreds of design update packages indicates that designs were not 100% complete when awarded for construction. In the recent report issued by the National Academy of Engineering for the MTA, the Academy states that "the CA/T work packages . . . frequently required modifications to accommodate project-wide systems that were designed in later packages."

Incomplete designs

Globe finding: B/PB acknowledged that three major construction contracts went out to bid while designs were "substantially incomplete."

B/PB reply: The three other allegedly incomplete designs referenced in the Globe article were still pending at the time bids were first advertised, in order not to miss a window of opportunity for federal funding.

Inspector General's response: Notwithstanding B/PB's claim that it approved construction start-up based on incomplete designs in order not to miss a window of opportunity for federal funding, the resultant problems contributed to massive cost overruns that in turn led the U.S. Congress to institute a funding cap on the Big Dig. The frustration of Congress about these overruns and the resultant imposition of the funding cap has left Massachusetts bearing at least $6 billion of Big Dig costs, excluding interest on bond debt, by far the largest state burden for a federally funded public works project in U.S. history.

Quality control

Globe finding: B/PB's quality control was lax, based on the findings of Federal Highway Administration inspectors. One steel beam was made of a weaker grade of steel than project regulations allowed.

B/PB reply: The FHWA inspection report rated the overall quality of work on the site as "satisfactory." Furthermore, the quality assurance process review conducted by FHWA in July 2000 listed the process for acceptance of metal products as one of five noteworthy accomplishments.

Inspectors discovered one beam of lower-grade steel caused by a supplier error. It was a temporary bulkhead end pile. The contractor requested that the temporary pile be accepted rather than removed, since it carried a reduced load and was not a structural member. The final designer agreed.

Inspector General's response: Records reviewed by the office support the Globe's conclusion and contradict B/PB's reply. B/PB understates the magnitude of the problems identified by the U.S. DOT in its inspection report of Feb. 24, 1999. B/PB minimizes and mischaracterizes the federal criticism by saying that the federal report only identified one beam of lower grade steel.

Records show that the U.S. DOT cited three additional problems contributing to its conclusion that the overall quality of work was unsatisfactory. Records include the following:

* Removal of live piles: Improper procedures used in the removal of an unknown number of load-bearing shafts that had previously supported the elevated Central Artery;

* Soldier piles (temporary supporting shafts): Lack of the specified steel quality reports of tests of additional support shafts of the Central Artery; and

* Steel installed on the contract did not match up with the steel quality control tracking numbers for this phase of the contract.

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