MA Officials Knew of Faulty Tunnel Wall

Wed December 01, 2004 - National Edition

BOSTON (AP) A senior official with the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority knew in 2001 about substandard construction in a wall section that sprang a massive leak this past September, but no action was taken to ensure it was properly repaired, documents show.

Memos obtained by The Boston Globe included a letter from Modern Continental Construction Co. that described the leak when it was discovered in December 2001 and sought advice for repairing it.

The letter was sent to an engineer for Bechtel/Parsons Brinckerhoff, the firm overseeing the most expensive highway project in U.S. history, and also copied to John “Jack” Wright, a Turnpike Authority official overseeing construction of the northbound tunnel and now deputy project director.

The document appears to contradict Turnpike Authority Chairman Matthew J. Amorello’s assertions that the agency hadn’t learned of the leak until it erupted this September.

The blowout in the wall on Sept. 15 was in one of the deepest points of the northbound lanes through the main Interstate 93 tunnel, near South Station. The leak caused traffic to back up as far south as Quincy — approximately 10 mi. away — at the height of the evening rush hour.

Recently, further problems were discovered with the tunnel: There are hundreds of leaks in the tunnel walls that have to be found and repaired — a project that could take approximately a decade.

Amorello said that contractors would be responsible for paying for repairs.

Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. Martin Meehan, D-MA, promised a congressional investigation into the Big Dig’s problems, along with a federal Department of Transportation probe.

“It’s absolutely outrageous,” Meehan said. “This project has had its embarrassing moments, but none more embarrassing than this one.”

The documents cited by the Globe also showed that when the leak was discovered in 2001, Modern Continental covered it with a concrete patch, rather than excavating out the entire section and re-pouring the wall.

The Turnpike Authority issued a statement on Thursday, Nov. 11, insisting that even if Wright knew about the leak, it remained the responsibility of the contractor to correct the problem.

“[It’s] the resident engineers and the field offices [of Bechtel/Parsons Brinckerhoff] that are responsible for tracking and closing out all deficiencies discovered during construction. The bottom line is that the repair that was performed on this slurry wall was insufficient,” the statement read.

Wright, reached at home by the Globe, acknowledged that the letter appeared to have been copied to him, but otherwise declined to comment.

The $14.6-billion Big Dig, formally called the Central Artery/Third Harbor Tunnel project, replaced the elevated Central Artery of Interstate 93 with underground tunnels through downtown Boston. It also connected Interstate 90, the Massachusetts Turnpike, to Logan International Airport, and added the Ted Williams Tunnel beneath Boston Harbor.