October 24, 2006
`Lax’ Firm Quietly Tapped For
By CASEY ROSS
After repeatedly bashing safety oversight by the Big Dig's top management consultant, the Romney administration quietly tapped the controversial firm to inspect repairs of the Interstate 90 ceiling system that collapsed and killed a woman in July, the Herald has learned.
A spokesman for Bechtel/Parsons Brinckerhoff said the firm has been conducting daily field inspections of remedial work inside the I-90 Seaport connector tunnel - essentially the same role it played before the collapse that killed Jamaica Plain motorist Milena Del Valle, 38.
"This is just stunning," said independent gubernatorial candidate Christy Mihos, a former Turnpike Authority board member. "Why would they let the same people who got us into this mess look to find the most opportune way of getting us out of it?"
A spokesman for the Turnpike Authority said last night that Romney's transportation chief, John Cogliano, was not aware the firm had been working in the connector tunnel until the administration was contacted by the Herald. Romney has been in charge of the tunnel repair work since mid-July.
"When Secretary Cogliano heard about it, he thought it was entirely inappropriate and he is stopping it immediately," spokesman Jon Carlisle said. Pressed on who made the decision, Carlisle said it was a mid-level manager, but declined to elaborate.
The move to involve Bechtel/Parsons Brinckerhoff contradicted assurances by Romney that repairs in the I-90 connector tunnel would remain scrupulously independent of firms involved in the original construction. It also contrasts with harsh criticisms the governor lobbed at B/PB after the collapse.
"How can it be that oversight was so lax?" an exasperated Romney asked during an Aug. 8 press conference in which he criticized B/PB by name. "The basic structure (of ceiling supports), even had it worked as it was designed, was inadequate to the task."
Despite those concerns, Romney's Executive Office of Transportation asked the firm to help oversee day-to-day remedial work by J.F. White and McCourt Construction, the two contractors now handling repairs in the eastbound and westbound lanes of the I-90 connector tunnel. B/PB has been involved in the work for at least two weeks.
Andy Paven, a spokesman for the joint-venture firm, said, "We were asked by EOT (the Executive Office of Transportation) for professional assistance, and we'll do what we're asked to help support the reopening of the tunnel."
Paven added that, despite public finger-pointing at Bechtel, no finding has been reached by agencies probing Del Valle's death. "There are multiple investigations under way whose purpose is to determine cause and responsibility for the July 10 collapse," he said.
The administration's handling of the Big Dig has come under intense scrutiny amid an increasingly bitter campaign for governor in which Lt. Gov Kerry Healey is trying to close a gap in polls in which she trails Democratic rival Deval Patrick.
In a statement last night, Patrick said, "Enough is enough. It is very clear that the Romney-Healey administration has failed in its oversight of the Big Dig. This fox guarding the hen house approach . . . is what got us into this mess in the first place."
Multiple attempts to get comment from the Healey camapign last night were unsuccessful.
BOX: `Inadequate to the task'
Despite repeatedly bashing the Big Dig's top management consultant, Gov. Mitt Romney's transportation appointees have tapped that firm, Bechtel/Parsons Brinckerhoff, to inspect repairs of the Interstate 90 Seaport connector tunnel ceiling that collapsed in July, killing a woman. Here are comments Romney made on the project and Bechtel's design and oversight role after the collapse:
"The history of this project just makes you shake your head. There have been design mistakes, poor construction, poor management. The list goes on and on."
"How can it be that oversight was so lax?" Romney asked during a press conference, referring to Bechtel's work. "The basic structure (of ceiling supports), even had it worked as it was designed, was inadequate to the task."
Romney later hit the firm over deficiencies in the design of ceiling brackets: "It's hard to understand how . . . the engineering firm responsible for integrity and quality assurance of the entire project would not have done a calculation of these connection brackets."
In an Herald interview about how long the tunnel will be closed, Romney says of Bechtel: "With the number of problems with engineering and construction so significant, it's going to take quite a while. You would think you'd get a little more for your $14.7 billion."
Announcing the discovery of new defects in the tunnel, Romney again hits Bechtel: "Obviously, this compounds the frustration we all have with the engineering, design and quality assurance of the tunnel system. We've found three (categories of defects) so far. Will we find a fourth? I don't know.'
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