- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 27, 2006

BOSTON (AP) — The Massachusetts Turnpike Authority chairman, under fire since 12 tons of falling concrete killed a woman in a Big Dig highway tunnel, resigned yesterday after weeks of pressure from the governor.

In an agreement with the state, Matthew Amorello has until Aug. 15 to clear out his office, but he will continue to be paid his $223,000 annual salary through February.

He also avoids a hearing during which he would have been deposed under oath at a time when federal and state officials are conducting criminal investigations into the deadly collapse.

“I think this is good news for the commonwealth, the right step for Matt Amorello to have taken,” Gov. Mitt Romney said. “Clearly it will save the taxpayers and the ratepayers the cost of an extensive legal battle, and it also allows the citizens and toll-payers to have confidence again in the turnpike authority.”

Lawyers for Mr. Amorello and Mr. Romney hammered out details of his resignation agreement late Wednesday, after Supreme Judicial Court Justice Francis X. Spina ruled that Mr. Romney could go forward with the administrative process to remove Mr. Amorello.

Mr. Romney said yesterday that he would search for a new turnpike authority chairman outside the political arena but had no specific candidate in mind.

“I want somebody who knows how the wheels of automobiles and trucks turn and how engineers can do a fine job finishing the work of the Big Dig,” he said.

Mr. Amorello’s family owned a construction company, but he made his career in politics. He was elected to the state Senate in 1990 and served four terms before losing a bid for Congress. In 2002, he was appointed to head the turnpike authority by Mr. Romney’s predecessor.

Mr. Romney, a fellow Republican who is considering a run for president, has long been critical of Mr. Amorello and repeatedly called on him to step down.

After the deadly July 10 collapse of several heavy ceiling panels, Mr. Romney seized control of tunnel inspections from Mr. Amorello’s agency and began legal efforts to oust him.

The $14.6 billion Big Dig highway project already had been troubled by leaks and cost overruns, but the collapse and the discovery of other loose ceiling bolts in the days that followed heightened concerns about the very safety of the tunnels.

Mr. Amorello, 48, had shepherded the Big Dig highway project through the final phases of construction. He faced consistent criticism for having what some described as an imperial, secretive manner and clashing with critics. That criticism increased after the collapse.

Mr. Amorello said yesterday that he had resisted the calls to step down because “I didn’t think it would fix anything or magically make all the issues associated with the Big Dig go away.

“I still don’t believe it will,” he said. “But to go into a hearing with a foregone conclusion doesn’t make sense for me, my family, any of those who have taken part in this process or the public.”

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