- The Washington Times - Monday, April 4, 2005

BOSTON (AP) — The Big Dig highway tunnels under downtown Boston are structurally sound and safe despite recent leaks, the Federal Highway Administration said yesterday.

The agency started the investigation into the Interstate 93 tunnels after water broke though a faulty wall panel in September, backing up traffic for miles and setting off a new round of criticism of the much-maligned, multibillion-dollar road project. Studies also revealed hundreds of smaller leaks.

The report says the most serious breach “appears to be isolated to a discrete section of the tunnel and primarily the result of poor quality control during construction.”

But overall, the Big Dig “is structurally sound and remains safe for traffic,” it says.

Representatives of the agency met yesterday with officials from the state Highway Department and the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority to brief them on the findings, which were later posted on the Federal Highway Administration’s Web site.

The report urges the Turnpike Authority to work quickly to finish inspecting tunnel walls and create a program to detect future leaks.

The $14.6 billion Big Dig, formally known as the Central Artery/Third Harbor Tunnel Project, is the most expensive highway project in U.S. history.

Its cost was estimated at $2.6 billion when Congress first approved funding for it in the mid-1980s. The project will not be finished until later this year, seven years behind schedule.

The agency looked at different permanent-repair proposals for the concrete wall panel where the September breach happened, including cutting away and replacing the sections or injecting grout into the damaged sections and welding steel panels over them.

The report also looked at drips near the tunnel’s ceiling joints. It said those leaks are of a lesser magnitude than the problems with the tunnel walls but are still unacceptable.

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