More flaws found in Big Dig; turnpike director removed

| 7/14/2006

As news broke that inspectors had found even more potentially dangerous bolt fixtures in the area surrounding the collapsed section of Boston ’s Big Dig tunnel, Gov. Mitt Romney signed legislation into law Friday, wresting control of the inspections away from the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority and giving it to the governor’s office.

The inspections stem from a July 10 collapse of part of the ceiling near the entrance to the Ted Williams Tunnel on Interstate 90 that crushed a car and left its female passenger dead.

Reuters reported on Friday, July 14, that inspectors had found 242 potentially faulty bolt fixtures that held three-ton concrete slabs along the ceiling in place. That number is more than four times the original estimate of 60 faulty bolt fixtures reported earlier in the week.

The tunnel remains closed indefinitely, though Michael Lewis, project manager for the Big Dig, told Reuters that it would be reopened in segments as repairs and upgrades are made.

The Associated Press reported that the emergency legislation signed by Gov. Romney on Friday, July 14, gives him ultimate control over the inspections and gives him the authority to determine when the tunnel will reopen.

The state has asked the National Transportation Safety Board to lead the investigation into the incident, The AP reported, because it is one of the few government agencies without any connections to the Big Dig. For example, Richard Capka, the new head of the Federal Highway Administration, actually oversaw the Big Dig project for about a year before he went to work for the federal government in 2002.

Romney’s emergency legislation also called for a $20 million audit of the entire project and said that Matthew Amorello, the Turnpike Authority chairman, would be removed through a special hearing, according to The AP.

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 throughout much of its 15 years, including leaks, faulty concrete, missed deadlines and political scandals among those involved in its management.