August 16, 2006

Mass. Gov. names firm to review “Big Dig” safety

By Scott Malone

BOSTON (Reuters) - Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney took
formal control on Wednesday of Boston's scandal-plagued "Big
Dig" highway project, naming an engineering firm to conduct a
90-day review of problems in the tunnel where a ceiling
collapse last month killed a woman.

Romney said that structural engineering firm Wiss, Janney,
Elstner Associates Inc. of Northbrook, Illinois -- which has
worked on disaster recovery projects including the World Trade
Center after the September 11, 2001 attacks in New York --
would review the tunnel's safety.

"They've had the kind of experience time and again to
evaluate this kind of project," Romney, a 2008 Republican
presidential hopeful, said at a news conference.

The $15 billion "Big Dig," America's costliest public works
project, has been in the spotlight since the July 10 collapse
in which a car carrying the woman was crushed by falling

Inspections of the 7.8-mile (12.6-km) tunnel system have
since shown that connectors holding up many portions of the
tunnel's ceiling could be faulty.

Romney swore in Massachusetts Transportation Secretary John
Cogliano as chairman of the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority,
overseeing "Big Dig" operations. Cogliano replaces Matthew
Amorello, who last month said he would step down.

He also appointed another state official, Stephen
Pritchard, previously secretary of environmental affairs, to
oversee the safety review.

The 90-day review will end in mid-November, after the
state's next gubernatorial elections. Romney is not seeking
re-election and is expected to focus his energies on the White

One political analyst said the troubles at the Big Dig,
including continued road closings, could come back to haunt
Romney on the campaign trail.

"It could bite him," said Julian Zelizer, professor of
history at Boston University.

"He has, for good or bad, associated himself as taking
responsibility for the fix of this crisis, and this will be
probably one of the biggest issues dogging him as he runs for
president -- how did he handle the Big Dig?

Another observer disagreed.

"Ultimately, the Big Dig story is not going to affect his
chances for the White House," said Jeffrey Berry, professor of
political science at Tufts University.

"I don't think Republican voters in Iowa or New Hampshire
care that much about a tunnel in a blue state."