July 11, 2006

Part of Boston ‘Big Dig’ tunnel collapses, kills 1

By Jason Szep

BOSTON (Reuters) - A three-tonne chunk of concrete fell
from a tunnel ceiling in Boston's $14-billion "Big Dig"
project, killing a woman in a car and rekindling questions over
the safety of the nation's biggest public works venture.

Faulty steel beams called "tiebacks" that hold up 40-foot
(12-meter) concrete ceiling panels gave way, causing four to
six panels to fall, including one that crushed the roof of a
Honda sedan at about 11 p.m. (0300 GMT) on Monday, said state

Milena Delvalle, 38, was killed instantly and her
46-year-old husband Angel suffered minor injuries.

The accident in the Interstate 90 connector tunnel is the
latest problem to mar the "Big Dig," a 15-year project plagued
by leaks and cost overruns that was designed to replace
outdated elevated highways with a sleek system of tunnels.

The project has been compared to the Hoover Dam or the
Panama Canal but it has also been criticized for cost overruns.

The Massachusetts Turnpike Authority, which oversaw the
tunnel's construction, said the fallen panels had been built in
1999 and were inspected every two years.

"It's a horrible, horrible tragedy," MTA chairman Matt
Amorello told reporters. "We will leave no stone unturned and
no expense spared in pursuing any wrongdoing that may have
occurred in the installation of these ceiling panels."

The tunnel was closed on Tuesday morning, choking rush hour
traffic across Boston with some commuters delayed by more than
an hour as police and engineers cordoned off the connector,
which leads to the Ted Williams Tunnel and Boston's airport.

Amorello said state police were investigating and vowed to
get to the bottom of why the beams gave way in a 200-ft (61
meter) section that forms the tunnel's air-ventilation system.

He said panels along that section of the tunnel would be
removed and inspected and the connector tunnel would partially
reopen to traffic by midday on Wednesday.


A witness told Boston's WBZ radio that chunks of concrete
along with pieces of twisted steel tumbled from the ceiling.

The last piece of major "Big Dig" construction was finished
this year, but some construction is still being done.

In May, six men who supplied concrete to the Big Dig were
arrested and accused of delivering sub-standard materials to
the project.

In April 2005, a day after federal officials declared the
Big Dig's tunnels safe, debris fell from an overhead vent in a
southbound tunnel and damaged at least five vehicles.

Former state Inspector General Robert Cerasoli, whose
December 1998 report questioned the safety of construction in
the Big Dig's Ted Williams tunnel, said he saw the accident

"I did many many reports on this project over the course of
10 years and found a lot of shoddy work, construction work," he
told New England Cable News.

"It is a direct result of doing a design-build project with
such a large amount of money," he said. "The architect and the
engineer watch over the people who construct it. They are on
the same team. They are going to cover for each other."