Report: Some Big Dig fire doors don't work

| 4/8/2005

Some of the fire doors in Boston’s Big Dig interstate tunnel system are blocked or missing, The Associated Press reported Friday, April 8, but fire officials say that’s not a problem.

Some of the fire doors were blocked as the result of efforts to repair the numerous leaks that have plagued the tunnels since last year.

A city fire prevention official told The Boston Globe that the department “can live with the conditions,” referring to the blocked doors, and project officials said that the tunnels exceed federal standards.

The news about the fire doors, which was discovered after a survey by The Globe, was the latest blow to the waning prestige of the project, which has been called the largest construction effort of its kind in U.S. history.

Earlier this week, a construction mishap rained rocks and dirt on at least five vehicles inside the Interstate 93 tunnel just a day after officials officially released a report declaring the tunnels were safe, local media outlets reported.

And 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 are safe.

“I 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.”

In late 2004, The 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.

As of March, leaks, construction faults and damage to fireproofing had been found in roughly 40 sections of the tunnels.

The Big Dig was created to take the elevated interstates that 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.