- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 15, 2005

BOSTON (AP) — The independent engineering specialist who led an investigation into leaks at the 14-year-old Big Dig project says he no longer can vouch for the safety of the tunnels in the $14.6 billion system.

Gov. Mitt Romney, a Republican, responded to the report by saying he would ask the state’s highest court whether he has the power to fire the chairman of the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority, which oversees the system of bridges and tunnels that has been plagued for years by cost overruns.

“With the Big Dig, there’s been a pattern of cover-up and stonewalling that has left the public with little confidence that the project is being managed well or that the road and tunnel system are safe to travel,” Mr. Romney said.

The governor’s comments were in response to a letter written to the Turnpike Authority by engineering specialist Jack K. Lemley, who stated he was “unable to express an opinion as to the safety of the I-93 portion of the Central Artery.” A copy of the March 9 letter was obtained by the Boston Globe.

Mr. Romney had called for the resignation of Turnpike Chairman Matthew Amorello, but the chairman refused. A call to the Turnpike Authority was not returned, but spokesman Doug Hanchett told the Globe, “We believe the tunnels are perfectly safe. If we ever had a reasonable inkling otherwise, we’d close the tunnels.”

The leak-ridden tunnels are the centerpiece of the massive Big Dig highway project, which buried Interstate 93 under downtown Boston and connected the Massachusetts Turnpike to Logan International Airport.

In September, water broke though a faulty wall panel and flooded the I-93 northbound tunnel, backing up rush-hour traffic for miles. A subsequent investigation headed by Mr. Lemley found hundreds of smaller leaks.

Mr. Lemley told lawmakers in November that people driving through the tunnels faced no public safety risk. Since then, Big Dig officials have identified more than 40 sections of tunnel wall with construction defects.

In his letter, Mr. Lemley said project officials blocked him from obtaining records and data related to the new problems, including 10 years of field notes from engineers and more recent testing data.

He said his change in position also was driven by the apparent lack of any formal plan by Big Dig officials to address the leak problems. Mr. Lemley did not return a phone call yesterday.

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