- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 12, 2006

BOSTON (AP) — The head of the agency overseeing Boston’s Big Dig highway project ordered a review of the entire metro highway system yesterday after investigators looking into the fatal collapse of concrete ceiling slabs found 60 more questionable areas inside the same tunnel.

Initial inspections revealed dozens of signs of bolts loosening and other potential failures in the eastbound connector tunnel, part of the main route to Boston’s Logan International Airport, Massachusetts Turnpike Authority officials and the Big Dig project manager said.

Trouble spots also were found in the tunnel’s westbound lanes, they said.

“We’re evaluating each of these individual sites,” Massachusetts Turnpike Authority Chairman Matthew Amorello said, but “the tunnel system is safe.”

Authorities planned to reopen the connector tunnel yesterday, but Mr. Amorello said it would remain closed indefinitely to ensure motorists’ safety.

Twelve tons of concrete ceiling panels in the tunnel crashed down late Monday night, crushing a car and killing a 38-year-old woman inside. Her husband escaped by crawling through a window.

U.S. Attorney Michael Sullivan, whose office has been conducting a yearlong investigation into problems with the massive highway project, said yesterday that his investigators are turning their attention to whether contractors involved in that part of the system delivered the goods and services that they promised.

“We obviously want to identify any public safety risks … but also to ensure that what the government paid for — through tax dollars — is, in fact, what was delivered,” Mr. Sullivan said.

The woman’s death also could lead to charges of negligent homicide, said Massachusetts Attorney General Tom Reilly, who is treating the section of eastbound Interstate 90, near the entrance of a connector tunnel to Logan Airport, as a crime scene.

Mr. Amorello has said a steel “tieback” that held a 40-foot section of ceiling panels gave way, letting the concrete slabs loose as the car drove beneath it.

He and Michael Lewis, project director for the Big Dig, told reporters yesterday that inspectors also had discovered that some bolts were starting to come from that tunnel’s concrete ceiling, and that in other locations there were gaps between the ceiling and a metal plate holding the 3-ton panels in place.

The systemwide evaluation ordered yesterday covers the entire metro Boston highway system — roadways, bridges, tunnels and even areas that weren’t part of the $14.6 billion Big Dig project.

The Big Dig, started in 1991, was the most expensive highway project in U.S. history. It buried Interstate 93 beneath downtown and extended the Massachusetts Turnpike to the airport. It also gained nationwide notoriety for its soaring costs, years of traffic snarls, the criminal investigation into the concrete suppliers and problems with leaks that sprouted in another of the Big Dig tunnels.

The section of tunnel ceiling that collapsed was near the entrance to the Ted Williams Tunnel, which runs under Boston Harbor to the airport.

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