Panel recommends Big Dig oversight

| Thursday, December 30, 2004

A key legislative panel investigating the Big Dig wants to hand over the reigns for recovering millions of wasted taxpayer dollars to the Massachusetts attorney general’s office.

The state’s Senate Post Audit and Oversight Committee makes the recommendation in a report that has been nearly two years in the making. The report highlights mistakes by the state and the project designers and contractors that let the massive project’s cost top $14 billion.

The report, released Wednesday, Dec. 29, also states the only way for the state to recover wasted tax money on the project is to put the state’s top attorney in charge of going after problem contractors.

Attorney General Thomas F. Reilly said in a statement that he welcomes the fight.

“I have seen the report and am prepared to take on the task of cost recovery,” Reilly said. “The time for commissions has passed. The commonwealth needs to speak with one voice on this issue.”

The two-decade construction of the underground roadway has been riddled with embarrassing episodes and cost overruns. The Big Dig – the most expensive highway construction in U.S. history – carries portions of several highways, including Interstates 93 and 90.

Since September, when an 8-inch breach in a wall panel sent water gushing onto the roadway, hundreds of smaller leaks have been found.

As revelations of shoddy work and waste continue to mount, state lawmakers must now choose between several different plans to jumpstart the state’s lagging cost recovery efforts. One plan, offered by Republican Gov. Mitt Romney, would create an independent commission with expanded legal powers to go after contractors responsible for millions of dollars in mistakes.

The committee, chaired by Sen. Marc Pacheco, D-Taunton, also calls for greater public oversight of the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority, which oversees the Big Dig, as well as greater scrutiny of large construction contracts. Romney’s proposal would do the same.

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