- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 20, 2006

BOSTON (AP) — Gov. Mitt Romney shut down the eastbound Ted Williams Tunnel yesterday after two problem bolts were spotted during inspections following the deadly collapse of ceiling panels in a nearby stretch of the city’s Big Dig highway system.

Mr. Romney, a Republican, said state engineers had found two bolts in the Ted Williams Tunnel that appeared to have slipped a half-inch and 1 inch in one ceiling panel.

“It is perhaps an overreaction but we want to err on the side of public safety,” Mr. Romney said, overruling a finding by the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority that the tunnel was safe.

Mr. Romney said he expected the shutdown to last a matter of hours, not days.

State inspections of Boston’s Big Dig tunnels began after 12 tons of cement ceiling panels fell onto a car inside a connector tunnel July 10, killing Milena Del Valle, 39.

The connector tunnel, a stretch of Interstate 90 that leads to the Ted Williams Tunnel, was shut down immediately, and inspections found hundreds of problems with bolts holding its ceiling panels in place.

The eastbound Ted Williams Tunnel, opened in 1995, runs under Boston Harbor to Logan International Airport. It was closed to the general public after the nearby collapse, but buses had been using it to reach the airport.

After the collapse, engineers conducted “pull tests” on the ceiling panels in the connector tunnel and a tunnel ramp and found hundreds of bolts secured with epoxy that were unreliable.

The ceiling panels in the tunnel are suspended from the ceiling using the same threaded, epoxy bolts, but the panels are lighter than in the connector tunnel and the system that suspends them is considered more substantial, using wider bolts. The panels also weigh much less, about 800 pounds each compared with 3 tons.

Mr. Romney said he was still concerned after the two problem bolts were found. A truck was brought in to shore up the ceiling. The governor said engineers were working to devise a plan to reinforce the panel and allow traffic to pass.

The underwater portion of the 1.6-mile Ted Williams Tunnel is three-quarters of a mile long. It was built using a dozen steel tube sections, each longer than a football field. The sections were sunk into a trench on the Boston Harbor floor.

The $14.6 billion Big Dig buried the old elevated Central Artery under Boston. Although it has been considered an engineering marvel, the most expensive highway project in U.S. history also has also been plagued by leaks, falling debris, cost overruns, delays and problems linked to faulty construction.

Attorney General Tom Reilly has begun a criminal investigation into the collapse last week and is considering whether involuntary manslaughter charges are warranted. His inspectors are focusing on how the concrete panels were designed, whether they were secured properly for their weight and whether they were tested properly.

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