Big Crumble round-up (part VII)

| July 26, 2006

UPDATED (07/26/06): Ken McCracken over at WILLisms has some futher observations and cogent comments (including about duct tape). He’s also got a great map of the Big Dig Crumble itself.

Also, the Massachusetts Supreme Court has ruled that Gov. Romney can proceed with his hearing to fire MTA Chief Matt Amorello (via

And now yet another potential Big Crumble structural problem has surfaced (via the Boston Globe):

State transportation officials said yesterday they were concerned about the stability of five massive jet fans suspended above two Big Dig ramps, the latest in a growing list of potential problems that threaten to further snarl Boston’s traffic.

State officials said the discovery of another safety threat underscores the inadequacy of inspections conducted by the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority in the days after Milena Del Valle was killed July 10 by falling concrete ceiling panels in the Interstate 90 connector tunnel.

Let’s see: water leaks, substandard concrete, bad bolts, bad hangers, overweight concrete panels, the above-mentioned fans, and the entire design itself, with prior documented warnings (dating back to 1999) of possible problems. All of this resulting in a tragic death, a criminal investigation and multiple lawsuits. Oh, and yes, the project took twice as long and cost over twice as much as originally estimated. We’re running out of things to go wrong, short of having a five-million-year-old alien ship buried nearby come to life and cause mass riots.

Finally (for today), David Bernstein at the Boston Phoenix has put together a list of all the various key players in the Big Crumble since 1991. The icons he uses are, frankly, a bit distracting and not that informative — and I get the sense that Bernstein (who was aided by Adam Reilly of “Romney’s Katrina” fame) has a bit of an anti-Romney, anti-Republican political agenda:

Since 1991, state administration has been in the hands of Republican governors who are especially pro-business and anti-government: William Weld, Paul Cellucci, Jane Swift, and Mitt Romney. As a result, a succession of key appointments have gone to people with little interest in bringing scrutiny to Bechtel and other companies on the project.

On the other hand, plenty of legitimate questions exist as to who let the Big Crumble push ahead with so many problems and warning.

ORIGINAL: Things are still in “hitting-the-fan” mode, typical when a large project like this suddenly goes bad. And, as I’ve noted before, the key difference between the Big Dig Crumble and a large-scale IT project is that you can’t make the tunnel go away quietly.

First, as predicted, inspectors keep finding more problems, and more of the Big Crumble has been shut down (via Reuters):

Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney said on Tuesday the state had closed more of the “Big Dig” tunnel system after finding additional places that could cause a ceiling collapse like a lethal failure earlier this month,

Parts of the the 7.8 mile (12.6 km) tunnel system have been closed since July 10, when a three-ton slab of the tunnel ceiling tore loose from its anchor of bolts and epoxy, crushing a car and killing a 38-year-old woman, Milena Del Valle.

Romney said on Tuesday state authorities had closed a westbound lane of the Ted Williams tunnel, connecting Boston to its airport, after finding another two such hangers pulling loose.

“Because these two hangers were side-by-side, the engineers feared the development of something called the ‘zipper effect,’ where one weakens, the next weakens and it pulls the whole system down,” Romney told a press conference.

The eastbound lanes of the tunnel are currently closed to all traffic except buses and emergency vehicles.

Romney said engineers had also discovered that the bolt-and-epoxy system had been used to hold up two 6,200 pound (2,812 kilogram) ventilation fans and that a new mounting system for those fans would need to be installed.

Authorities plan to reinforce the more than 1,400 spots in tunnels where the bolt-and-epoxy fasteners are in use.

Note that last paragraph: they plan to do repair work on 1,400+ fasteners.

Next, in the “you can’t make this stuff up” category comes the revelation that Big Crumble workers actually used Duct Tapeâ„¢ to hold loose bolts in place (via the Boston Herald):

Big Dig workers were so stumped by ceiling construction in the Ted Williams Tunnel they used duct tape to temporarily secure bolts now coming loose in hundreds of areas on the $14.6 billion project, state inspection records show.

The records reveal massive confusion and disagreement over repeated failures of epoxy-bolt fasteners installed in the mid-1990s. Inspections noted that holes were drilled too deep, bolts were too short and epoxy was at times not mixed properly.

In some cases, records show, workers scrambled to find a temporary way of keeping bolts from dropping out of the ceiling.

“Bolts have falled (sic) out before epoxy sets,” one inspector for the management firm Bechtel/ Parsons Brinckerhoff wrote in November 1994. “Crew is now using duct tape to hold bolt to ceiling.”

Third, the lawsuits move forward and increase. The newest one — and the one most understandable — is by the family of Milena Del Valle, the woman tragically killed when the Big Dig crumbled (via the Boston Globe):

The family of Milena Del Valle will soon file a wrongful death lawsuit against the state agencies and private companies that designed and built the Big Dig tunnel where she was killed when concrete ceiling panels plummeted onto her car, the family’s lawyers said yesterday.

Del Valle’s husband, Angel, has hired a prominent Boston lawyer, Jeffrey A. Denner, while Del Valle’s three children, who live in Costa Rica, have hired Florida lawyers Alan Goldfarb and David H. Gold. The lawyers met in Denner’s Boston office yesterday to map out a common strategy.

Here’s a new twist about the lawsuit that MTA chief Amorello has filed to keep his job — he’s using public funds to pay for the law firms representing him (via WCVB-TV):

“I think it’s pretty clear … that Matt Amorello has begun a strategy to hire multiple law firms at public expense to delay and bog down the process as long as he possibly can, hopefully, in his view, until I’ve left office,” the governor said during a Statehouse news conference.

While various state officials have called for him to step aside, “instead, he wants to spend public money to keep himself in his position. I cannot, for the life of me, understand why he doesn’t move on,” Romney said. Amorello has refused to say how much he is paying to the three firms: Good & Cormier, McCarter & English and DLA Piper Rudnick. “There would be no legal fees if not for the politically motivated actions taken by the governor and his recent appointments to the Turnpike Authority Board,” said Amorello spokeswoman Mariellen Burns

And last — but certainly not least — comes this report that back in 1999, a Big Crumble safety officer warned that the concrete ceiling panels might collapse (again via WCVB-TV):

The on-site safety officer for the Interstate 90 connector where a motorist was crushed by falling concrete warned his superiors in 1999 that the tunnel ceiling could collapse because the bolts could not support the heavy concrete panels, The Boston Globe reported Wednesday.

John Keaveney wrote in a two-page memo to Robert Coutts, senior project manager for contractor Modern Continental Construction Co., that he could not “comprehend how this structure can withhold the test of time.” “Should any innocent State Worker or member of the Public be seriously injured or even worse killed as a result, I feel that this would be something that would reflect Mentally and Emotionally upon me, and all who are trying to construct a quality Project,” he wrote.

A list of all my postings on the Big Crumble can be found here. ..bruce..

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Category: Main, Project Management, The Big Crumble

About the Author ()

Webster is Principal and Founder at Bruce F. Webster & Associates, as well as an Adjunct Professor of Computer Science at Brigham Young University. He works with organizations to help them with troubled or failed information technology (IT) projects. He has also worked in several dozen legal cases as a consultant and as a testifying expert, both in the United States and Japan. He can be reached at, or you can follow him on Twitter as @bfwebster.

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