July 13, 2006

Mass. governor seeks control of troubled “Big Dig”

BOSTON (Reuters) - Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney said on
Thursday he would ask the legislature to give him control of
the agency overseeing Boston's $15-billion "Big Dig" highway
project after the fatal collapse of a tunnel ceiling.

Romney said he would seek emergency legislation that
includes $20 million for a "stem-to-stern" inspection of
Boston's central artery system following the collapse, which
killed a woman and sparked fears of wider defects in the most
expensive U.S. public-works project ever built.

"The history of this project is one that just makes you
shake your head," Romney, a potential 2008 Republican
presidential aspirant, told a news conference.

"There's been design failures, there's been poor design,
poor management, poor construction, poor quality control, poor
quality assurance. The list goes on and on."

"One's impression is that corners were cut," he said.

The Massachusetts Turnpike Authority, which oversees the
Big Dig, has found 60 areas where bolt fixtures that supported
the ceiling in Boston's eastbound Interstate 90 connector
tunnel were compromised after the collapse.

It says problems may also exist in the westbound and
express commuter lanes since Monday's collapse, which shook
public confidence in the 15-year engineering project that has
been likened to the building of the Panama Canal and marred by
criminal investigations, delays, leaks and scandals.

"It's my understanding that the westbound is in worst shape
than the eastbound," Secretary of Transportation John Cogliano
told reporters. The tunnel connector has been closed
indefinitely, backing up rush-hour traffic.

Under legal action that began this week, Turnpike Authority
Chairman Matthew Amorello faces removal through a hearing in
which Romney would play the role of the jury. "I'll make the
final determination," he said. Romney had long asked for
Amorello's resignation.

The FBI is also investigating the tunnel collapse. In May,
six men who supplied concrete to the Big Dig were arrested,
accused of delivering sub-standard material.

Romney asked state lawmakers to give his cabinet control
over the Turnpike Authority -- from its records to staff to
inspections of the potentially dangerous areas.

The Big Dig, which buried 3 miles of roads and elevated
highways in downtown Boston, was initially estimated to cost
only $300 million. It cut the average peak travel time on
northbound Interstate 93 by 17 minutes to about 3 minutes after
major road construction ended in January.