Official responsible for Big Dig resigns

July 31, 2006

The senior official responsible for Boston's Big Dig highway project resigned Thursday, July 27, clearing the way for Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney to have greater control the Big Dig after a woman was killed when tunnel ceiling tiles fell and crushed her car, the New York Times reported.

Matthew Amorello, chairman of the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority, which oversees the Big Dig, agreed to resign hours before a hearing at which Gov. Romney was expected to fire him, the New York Times reported.

Gov. Romney had begun a process to remove Amorello after the tunnel accident on July 10, which killed 38-year-old Milena Del Valle. Amorello's resignation completes a 3 1/2 year effort by Gov. Romney to take control of the Turnpike Authority, the Boston Globe reported. The governor had won control over safety inspections of the Big Dig under a bill passed by the Legislature a couple of weeks ago.

Amorello did not arrive at the Turnpike Authority until 2002, after the tunnel was built, but Gov. Romney said that Amorello was "in over his head," had been secretive about sharing information with other state agencies and had not made sure that the ceiling was adequately inspected since the tunnel opened three years ago, the New York Times reported.

The state of Massachusetts will conduct a nationwide search to find Amorello's successor, who will hold the title of executive director of the Turnpike Authority and run day-to-day operations of the agency, said Gov. Romney.

The new executive director will probably not be someone who has worked on the Big Dig, the governor said, and will not necessarily have to be an engineer.

"This has been a challenging job, but one that is very much worth doing," said Amorello. "I am sure there are things I could have done better, but I've made every decision in my time here and will continue to do so in the coming weeks because I truly believe it is the right thing to do."

Amorello, 48, will step down on Aug. 15, but his severance package will allow him to receive his $223,000 annual salary and health benefits for the next six months, the New York Times reported.

"I have stated to all of you that I would not resign because I didn't think it would fix anything or magically make all of the issues with the Big Dig go away," said Amorello at a news conference. "I still don't think it will. But going into a hearing with a foregone conclusion makes no sense for me, my family, any of those who have taken part in this process or the public."

Amorello defended his record, saying he inherited many problems when he took over the Big Dig, a $14.6 billion project plagued by leaks, mismanagement, cost overruns and other problems, the New York Times reported.

"I knew when I took this job that the public confidence had been badly shaken, if not totally gone," he said. "I have tried to overcome that image."

Gov. Romney said he would seek to move to a new system as soon as possible, and Administration officials say they could change the Turnpike Authority structure without legislation approval, according to the Boston Globe.

Romney said he is expected to appoint Transportation Secretary John Cogliano as chairman of the Turnpike Authority board and begin a broad search for an executive director with experience managing large construction projects.

Gov. Romney's aids said it was unclear whether Cogliano will run the Turnpike Authority after Aug. 15 or whether the agency will pick an interim chief executive. The Romney administration will retain control over inspections and repairs resulting from the July 10 tunnel collapse on the I-90 connector that killed Del Valle.