BOSTON—According to Scott Allen’s article in the Boston Globe, the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority has increased the amount it expects to spend on repairs to two Big Dig tunnels to $15 million. The Authority’s board of directors initially approved $3 million for the repairs to the Interstate 90 connector tunnel and the Ted Williams Tunnel, reflecting the unexpectedly widespread safety problems investigators have discovered since the fatal ceiling collapse last month.
Since the number of loose bolts and other defects in tunnel ceilings has ballooned, Michael Lewis, turnpike construction chief, is urging his board to increase the repair spending limit by 500 percent.
The proposed spending authorization underscores the extent of tunnel ceiling problems discovered since the first days after the accident, when former board chairman Matthew Amorello called the ceiling collapse an anomaly and predicted that both the connector tunnel and the nearby Ted Williams Tunnel would reopen in a matter of days. Seven weeks later, the Ted Williams has reopened, but the connector remains closed—with no reopening date scheduled.
Recently, investigators found that 3,300 brackets in the connector tunnel ceiling were not strong enough to support the ceiling. As a result, crews from McCourt/Obayashi, the joint venture carrying out the repairs, must replace each four-bolt bracket with one held up by five bolts. They were already shoring up more than 10,000 bolts that are fastened to the roofs of the two tunnels by epoxy. Governor Mitt Romney declared that all the epoxy bolts were unreliable after inspectors found that 225 had come loose in the connector and another 11 in the Ted Williams Tunnel.
The repair bill is separate from $4.5 million the state is paying an Illinois engineering firm, Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates, for what Romney called "a stem-to-stern review" of the $14.6 billion Big Dig project. Wiss, Janney, Elstner is supposed to issue a preliminary report to Romney on key safety issues in all of the tunnels, ramps, and bridges of the Big Dig by mid-November. If anything, the review is likely to generate additional spending on safety improvements.