August 29, 2006

Family sues after Boston Big Dig tunnel collapse

BOSTON (Reuters) - The family of a woman killed when slabs
of cement fell from the ceiling of Boston's "Big Dig" highway
tunnel project filed a wrongful death lawsuit on Tuesday
against the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority and contractors.

The husband and eldest daughter of Milena Del Valle, 38,
who was killed when a 3-ton portion of tunnel ceiling fell on
her car on July 10, blamed "reckless" and "negligent"
construction in the suit. They did not specify the amount of
damages sought.

The $15 billion "Big Dig," the country's most expensive
public works project, has been plagued by cost overruns, faulty
construction and leaks.

"The question became not if something would happen but when
some tragic incident would occur, and it did occur," Jeffrey
Denner, a Boston lawyer who is representing the family, said in
an interview.

Facing calls by Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney to resign,
the chairman of the turnpike authority stepped down after the
accident, in which Del Valle was crushed and instantly killed.

Her husband who was traveling with her at the time in the
Interstate 90 connector tunnel escaped through a window of
their sedan.

One legal source close to the family said the suit was
expected to seek damages in excess of $50 million.

The lawsuit, filed in Suffolk Superior Court, claims that
tunnel contractors, sub-contractors and other parties in the
project were "negligent, grossly negligent and/or reckless in
selecting and installing more than 1,500 unsafe and defective
bolts in the tunnel project."

It also accused the project of using defective concrete.

Other defendants named in the lawsuit include project
manager Bechtel/Parsons Brinckerhoff, contractor Modern
Continental Construction Co., tunnel designer Gannett Fleming
Inc. and concrete supplier Aggregate Industries.

With 7.5 miles of underground highway and a 183-foot (56
meter) wide cable-stayed bridge, the Big Dig replaced an ailing
elevated expressway to fix chronic congestion and reunite
downtown Boston with its historic waterfront neighborhoods.

But cost overruns, leaks, delays, falling debris, criminal
probes and charges of corruption have plagued the nearly
completed 15-year project. Parts of the project still remain
closed after the July accident, causing traffic delays.

Burying the highway was originally estimated to cost $360
million in the 1970s. That ballooned to $2.5 billion in the
1980s and eventually reached $14.9 billion.