July 14, 2006

Mass. governor takes over Boston tunnel inquiries

BOSTON (Reuters) - The Massachusetts governor took over
inspections of the "Big Dig" on Friday after a tunnel collapse
in the highway system killed a woman inside and raised safety
worries over America's costliest public works project.

Gov. Mitt Romney signed an emergency bill giving him broad
powers over the inspections and reducing the oversight
responsibilities of the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority, a
semi-public agency whose chairman is under pressure to resign.

Romney, a potential Republican White House contender, now
has authority over records and staff as well as inquiries on
the 242 potentially dangerous ceiling bolt fixtures discovered
this week in the tunnel that collapsed. The decision to reopen
the tunnel is now his.

The governor met with federal and local inspectors at the
area where a 38-year-old woman was killed late on Monday when a
three-tonne concrete ceiling panel crushed her car. Romney said
the tunnel would open "when it is entirely safe."

Also on Friday, U.S. transportation officials expanded
their investigation into the collapse.

The National Transportation Safety Board said it was
sending more engineers and the agency's director of highway
investigations to the site.

"This tragic accident raises some serious safety issues
that require independent investigation," said Mark Rosenker,
the acting chairman of the panel.

The NTSB is an agency independent of the U.S.
Transportation Department -- which is also investigating the
collapse. Safety board investigators will try to determine the
likely cause. Its major investigations usually include public

The collapse occurred in a new tunnel that connects
Boston's Logan airport to downtown. The nearly completed $15
billion highway project called the "Big Dig" has been marred by
construction and quality control problems.

There have been leaks and falling debris but Monday's
incident was the first that killed a motorist. The collapse
triggered outrage from Bostonians fed up with faulty work,
scandal, and questionable oversight.

Federal and state highway and criminal investigators are
also probing the collapse.

(Additional reporting by John Crawley in Washington)