Concrete crushes woman to death in Big Dig tunnel

| 7/11/2006

The worst fears about Boston’s ill-fated Big Dig project came true Monday, July 10, when several three-ton concrete panels fell from the ceiling of one of the tunnels, crushing a car and killing a female passenger inside. The driver of the car managed to escape with minor injuries.

The car was traveling near the entrance to the Ted Williams Tunnel on Interstate 90 when the concrete panels fell. That portion of the tunnel was not under water, so leakage was not a factor.

The Associated Press reported that Matthew Amorello, chairman of the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority, said in a press conference that the ceiling collapse was caused by a steel tieback giving way. The tiebacks are used to hold the 40-foot ceiling sections in place.

Amorello said one of the tiebacks snapped, causing one panel to release. When the first one fell, it caused several others to fall. That portion of the ceiling was built in 1999, according to The AP.

Authorities said Tuesday, July 11, they were inspecting at least 17 other sections of the tunnels where the tiebacks were used. The tunnel was still closed Tuesday and was expected to reopen by midday Wednesday, The AP reported.

The $14 billion project – which buried portions of Interstates 93 and 90 beneath downtown Boston and extended the Massachusetts Turnpike to Logan Airport – has been plagued with problems for years, including leaks, faulty concrete and political scandals among those involved in its management.

Earlier this year, six people working for one of the primary contractors in the project were indicted on fraud charges after they allegedly used sub-standard concrete on parts of the project and then allegedly tried to conceal it from authorities.

The AP reported that investigators said the quality of the concrete was not to blame for the tunnel collapse.