Big Dig investigations searching for answers

| Friday, July 28, 2006

The federal investigation into the July 10 collapse of part of a tunnel in Boston’s Big Dig project that left a woman dead is focusing on a variety of possible explanations for what caused the three-ton concrete panels to come loose from the ceiling.

The Associated Press reported that one avenue being examined by the National Transportation Safety Board is whether vibrations from nearby construction could have played a role in loosening the bolts that held the ceiling panels in place. The NTSB is also examining whether freezing temperatures, faulty installation or other factors could have contributed to the deadly collapse.

Rep. Michael Capuano, D-MA, told The AP that, while federal officials remained skeptical that the construction could be a cause, they weren’t ruling anything out at this point.

Federal officials issued 12 subpoenas to people involved in the Big Dig including contractors and subcontractors. The AP reported that the subpoenas mirror those sent out by Massachusetts Attorney General Tom Reilly in his criminal investigation.

Reilly told The AP on Thursday, July 27, that his investigation is focusing on Bechtel/Parsons-Brinckerhoff, the main contractor for the project.

Meanwhile, Matthew Amorello, head of the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority, agreed to step down on Thursday, July 27, amid mounting pressure from Gov. Mitt Romney and others involved in the Big Dig investigation.

Amorello came under fire following the fatal July 10 collapse. In the days following the accident, Romney filed emergency legislation to assume control of the investigation and scheduled a hearing to remove Amorello from his position.

That hearing was to have taken place on July 27, but Amorello resigned before it got started.

The $14 billion Big Dig 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 through much of its 15 years, including leaks, faulty concrete, missed deadlines and political scandals among those involved in its management.

The section of Interstate 90 where the collapse occurred, which connects Interstate 93 to the Ted Williams Tunnel, is still closed indefinitely.

A second part of the tunnel, a mile-long ramp that connects Interstate 90 west with Interstate 93 north and south, is also still shut down as repairs continue.

The tunnel closures have brought more traffic to the surface on Boston’s streets. The Massachusetts Turnpike Authority has posted information on alternate routes and closures on the Big Dig Web site at masspike.com/bigdig.

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