The day after officials officially released a report declaring the
tunnels of Boston’s Big Dig were safe, a construction mishap rained rocks and
dirt on at least five vehicles inside the Interstate 93 tunnel, local media
workers were demolishing supports for the old, above-ground I-93 roadway and a
small building over a ventilation shaft Wednesday, April 6, when some of the
construction debris fell into the shaft, making its way down to the tunnel road
surface far below. Media outlets said the rocks and dirt struck five passenger
vehicles, one of which was an ambulance.
The incident – which officials said was not caused by or related to the
tunnels’ integrity – led the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority, which operates
the Big Dig, to suspend work by the construction firm whose activities led to
the material dropping on the highway.
One day earlier, the Federal Highway
Administration released a report in which it concluded that the tunnels were
safe for truckers and others to use. In the report, federal officials said “the project is structurally sound and remains safe for
traffic but recommends that work continue with inspections and repairs to put a
stop to any and all leaks as soon as possible.”
Federal Highway Administration began investigating the safety of the tunnels
when the first leaks started popping up late last year. The recently released
report was based on a three-day assessment of the tunnels’ integrity conducted
in December by senior engineers, according to The Boston Globe.
safety of the tunnels has been questioned since Jack Lemley, an independent
engineer who is examining the massive set of tunnels, said in mid-March that he
was no longer able to assure that the tunnels making up the Big Dig were safe.
am now unable to express an opinion as to the safety of the I-93 portion of the
Central Artery,” Lemley wrote in a letter he reportedly sent to the
Massachusetts Turnpike Authority that was delivered March 9. The Boston
Globe obtained a copy of the letter. “My modified position is necessary due
to a revised understanding of the magnitude of problems that we became aware of
following our testimony on Nov. 30, 2004, and the recent failures reported in
the local newspapers.”
comments were widely reported in the media. But they were not the first time
someone had raised concerns about the Big Dig, formally known as the Central
late 2004, The Boston Globe began a series of blistering reports about a
series of leaks that appeared in the tunnel system. Since the initial report,
leaks have been reported in more and more tunnel sections, leading to
investigations and legislative hearings.
of March 15, The Globe reported that leaks, construction faults and
damage to fireproofing can be found in roughly 40 sections of the tunnels.
Big Dig was created to take the elevated interstates that once ran into the
center of Boston and replace them with wider, higher-capacity underground
highways, including new tunnels and bridges to carry traffic over and under the
city’s waterways. The Big Dig carries portions of several highways, including
Interstate 93 and I-90.
$14.6 billion project – called the largest of its kind ever in the United
States – included numerous, massive cost overruns, and the private concerns in
charge of the work have drawn the ire of local, state and federal officials.
Highway Administration officials said in a statement that they would continue
to monitor the project, not only to ensure it is safe and remains open to
traffic, but also to protect the multibillion-dollar investment taxpayers have
made in the project.
agency expects to issue a follow up later this year, after inspections and
repairs are complete.