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US: Romney: 1,400 Big Dig 'concerns'

The Associated Press
July 18th, 2006

Gov. Mitt Romney said Monday that tests showed there are more than 1,400 "items of concern" in a Big Dig connector tunnel where the ceiling collapsed --dramatically raising the number of potential troublespots identified by engineers and investigators.

Romney, speaking at a Statehouse news conference where he drew charts and diagrams of the problems, said all of the 1,146 bolt assemblies that used epoxy glue and more than 300 other areas in that connector tunnel complex will have to be reinforced.

"All of the bolts, all of the connectors we believe are of concern," Romney said. "In grabbing ahold of these bolts and pulling on them with excess force, they're letting go a lot earlier than they should have."

The governor said the tests showed that the epoxy system isn't working the way it had been designed and engineered to work, "and for that reason we can't count on it."

Last week, days after 12 tons of ceiling panels came loose and fell on a car, crushing the passenger, the governor announced that inspections had shown there were at least 362 possible deficiencies in the tunnel. The governor announced the closure of another tunnel Sunday because of potential problems with the ceiling panel connections.

Romney said it could be at least two months until everything is reopened.

The $14.6 billion Big Dig--the most expensive highway project in U.S. history--buried the old elevated Central Artery that used to slice through the city, replacing it with a series of tunnels. Although it's been considered an engineering marvel, it also has also been plagued by leaks, falling debris, cost overruns, delays and problems linked to faulty construction.

Attorney General Tom Reilly, who is considering whether involuntary manslaughter charges are warranted in the ceiling collapse, said Monday investigators have discovered documents showing there was a dispute from 1999 to 2000 over whether the tunnel's design was good enough to hold the heavy ceiling panels.

Reilly, who refused to give specifics, said he did not know how the dispute was resolved. He said the designer Gannett Fleming, contractor Modern Continental Construction Co., and Bechtel/Parsons Brinckerhoff, the company overseeing the Big Dig project, were involved but would not say who raised the questions.

"There was a substantial dispute whether the design was adequate to hold the weight expected," Reilly said.

Modern Continental issued a statement saying it was cooperating with the investigation, and is "confident that our work fully complied with the plans and specifications provided by the Central Artery Tunnel Project."

Messages left at Bechtel/Parsons Brinckerhoff and Gannett Fleming were not immediately returned.

Commuters on Monday endured increased traffic hassles with the closing of a second tunnel ramp, which connects Interstate 90 west to Interstate 93. It was closed Sunday after testing showed dozens of problems with the bolts holding up the ceiling. That ramp had been used as part of a detour around the accident scene.

Romney said engineers successfully tested a system to reinforce the bolts. With crews working around the clock, at least one portion of the closed areas could reopen by late in the weekend, he said.

Earlier in the day, Romney met with congressional, state and city leaders to outline his plan for traffic and to ensure the safe reopening of the tunnels. After the meeting, Sens. John Kerry and Edward M. Kennedy endorsed the governor's plans.

Kennedy said congressional committees are making plans to hold hearings into the tunnel collapse and the Big Dig project.

"We want to make sure the issue of safety is front and center," Kennedy said.

Kerry said the traffic jams resulting from the closures demonstrate the value of the project.

"One thing is for certain: The congestion that we're seeing and the incredible backup really is a statement to the importance of this project and to the difference it has made to the lives of people in this community," Kerry said.




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