More Signs of Loose Bolts Found in Boston Highway System

Associated Press
Thursday, July 13, 2006

BOSTON, July 12 -- Inspectors began reviewing the city's highway system Wednesday -- every bridge, tunnel and roadway -- after at least 60 signs of loose bolts and other potential failures were found in the same Big Dig tunnel where a motorist was crushed by falling concrete.

Initial inspections by state officials revealed that bolts had started to come out of the concrete in the eastbound connector tunnel, part of the main route to Boston's Logan International Airport. Gaps also had developed between the ceiling and metal plates, which help hold the massive panels in place.

There had been plans to reopen that section of tunnel Wednesday, but Matthew Amorello, the head of the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority, said it would remain closed indefinitely to ensure motorists' safety and to collect more evidence in a possible criminal investigation of the tunnels' designers and builders.

Amorello added that an undetermined number of similar problem areas were found in two adjacent tunnels.

The widespread trouble spots prompted the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority to order an inspection of the highway system -- even in parts that are decades old and not part of the $14.6 billion Big Dig system, the nation's most expensive highway project.

Still, Amorello insisted the tunnels are safe.

"What happened Monday was a tragedy," he said. "I'm taking every step to ensure it never happens again."

Late Monday, 12 tons of concrete ceiling panels in the tunnel collapsed, crushing a car and killing Milena Del Valle, 38. Her husband barely escaped by crawling through a window.

"It was like a bomb," Angel Del Valle told the Boston Herald. "Everything was falling. It was too fast. I couldn't stop. I couldn't do anything."

Massachusetts Attorney General Thomas F. Reilly said a contractor and project manager knew about problems in the tunnel as early as 1999, when five bolts failed during testing.

"It was not only identified, but there was a plan to address that problem, and what we're trying to determine right now is: Was that plan implemented?" said Reilly, who declined to provide other details.

John Christian, an engineer hired to investigate for the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority, said the attachment bolts used a standard design: Holes were drilled into the tunnel's concrete ceiling, and bolts were then inserted, along with pressure-injected epoxy.

The strength and quality of the concrete in the tunnel is key to the safe hanging of the overhead panels, according to Avi Mor, of Dr. Mor & Associates, a California-based consulting firm specializing in analysis of construction defects.

He said that if concrete failure were to blame for the collapse of the panel, investigators would probably find pieces of concrete still epoxied to the tie rods.

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