The Big Crumble – Amorello resigns

| July 27, 2006

UPDATED (07/27/06): The Boston Globe has a section of its website dedicated to the Big Dig Crumble.

Yesterday, MTA chief Matt Amorello lost his legal bid to block today’s scheduled hearing to remove him from his post. It’s no surprise, then, that Amorello resigned today before the hearing could take place (via the Boston Globe):

Massachusetts Turnpike Authority Chairman Matthew Amorello, under fire since heavy ceiling panels in a Big Dig tunnel collapsed on a motorist, agreed Thursday to resign after weeks of pressure on him to step aside.

Amorello’s resignation will be effective Aug. 15, but he will continue to receive his $223,000 annual salary through Feb. 15. He will leave the board completely, not just step down as chairman and chief executive.

He announced his decision an hour before a scheduled hearing in the governor’s office during which Gov. Mitt Romney planned to seek his removal. He lost a bid in the state’s highest court Wednesday to postpone the hearing and his ultimate dismissal.

Meanwhile, Big Dig Crumble inspectors are looking at possible reasons for the 1,000+ loose bolts (via the Boston Globe again):

Among a range of potential causes for the suspected failure of the epoxy-secured bolts in the I-90 connector tunnel, the safety board is examining whether blast vibrations or the movement of heavy equipment to and from the construction site of the 14-story Manulife Financial Corp. office tower on the South Boston waterfront affected the I-90 connector ceiling bolts, said lawmakers.

The soaring glass-and-steel building on Congress Street sits at the lip of the I-90 connector section where Del Valle died. Construction started in 2001, about a year after the tunnel’s epoxy-and-bolt ceiling fixtures were in place, and was completed in 2004, a year after the I-90 connector tunnel opened.

That, of course, wouldn’t explain the reports of loose bolts back in 1999, nor does it explain use of a design that would be susceptible to “the movement of heavy equipment” above the Big Crumble, since one would anticipate on-going construction in downtown Boston.

It appears that Big Crumble officials and contractors held seminars back in 1999 and 2001 to improve communication and resolve trust issues (via the Boston Herald):

MANAGING THE TENSION: Feel-good seminars aimed at easing tensions between contractors and government agencies were called by Big Dig brass at Hub hotels as problems mounted during construction on the Interstate 90 Seaport connector tunnel, documents obtained by the Herald reveal.

The meetings consisted of group discussions about how to rectify “trust” issues between contractors and project officials, as well as tips for dealing with stress and communication breakdowns.

During a 1999 meeting at the Harborside Hyatt, officials noted that project changes often lead to “poor subcontractor performance” and “poor morale/tension.” Records show there were several major changes to the anchor bolt system that holds up the tunnel’s ceiling. Those changes are a focus of a criminal probe into the July 10 collapse that killed Milena Del Valle, officials said….

Nearly 30 Big Dig managers attended a May 18, 2001, all-day seminar and lunch at the Seaport Hotel. Among the agenda issues were “communication,” “trust,” and “lessons learned.”

Despite the slight snarky tone of the article above, such meetings can be critical to a project’s success, since poor communication is often a major factor in large project failures. Unfortunately, they can have the opposite effect as well — if “trust” becomes a code word for “Let’s all shut up and finish the work, and then we’ll fix things later.” With the Big Crumble, the latter seems to have been the case.

As always, here’s a list of all my postings on the Big Crumble. ..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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