Clawing For Answers On Big Dig Tunnel Collapse

By Greg O’Brien, Codfish Press

Imagine a world, ponders realty show host Joe Rogan, “where your greatest fears become reality.” Welcome to Boston, where reality on the road is ugly. Fear Factor returns to the Hub this week, and contestants have no clue of the gut-wrenching stunts they may have to perform, as they pick their way through the angst of plying the most mismanaged, maligned and costly federal highway project in the nation’s history. There’s no light at the end of this tunnel, just a black hole of anguish.

Grieved family and friends on Saturday mourned the death of the 38-year-old Jamaica Plain woman, Milena Del Valle, killed in last week’s Big Dig tunnel collapse of tons of concrete ceiling slabs. Inside a crowded, searing church, state and local officials—Gov. Mitt Romney, Attorney General Thomas F. Reilly, Mayor Thomas M. Menino and Massachusetts Turnpike Authority Chairman Matthew J. Amorello among them—listened as mourners pleaded with officials to bury political differences on the cause of this tragedy and make the tunnel system safe for drivers. Outside the church, friends of the deceased gave officials holy hell for waiting until Del Valle’s death before initiating a nuts and bolts review of the $14.6 billion project, riddled from the start with deficiencies and the stench of malfeasance and misfeasance.

“Why not do that before this happened?” Margarita Sifre told The Boston Globe. “This situation could have been prevented.”

Millions throughout Massachusetts are wondering the same thing: Why do officials have to wait for a tragedy before acting in earnest? As investigators sort through reports of more than 240 loose ceiling bolt fixtures scattered throughout the faulty Interstate 90 connector, officials and project supervisors need to take inventory of the warning signs—from Big Dig audits ten years ago citing waste and mismanagement, to gushing leaks, to raining rocks and debris, to indictments for tainted concrete.

“What we are looking at is anyone who had anything to do with what happened,” Reilly said last Tuesday in announcing his investigation. “No one is going to be spared.”

That ought to include a top-down Beacon Hill rebuke that flushes from the Governor’s Office (political impotency on this is no excuse), to the Legislature and into the Attorney General’s Office for not resolutely persisting on a comprehensive review of this fiasco that cost more in today’s dollars than the 51-mile Panama Canal. As for Amorello, he is about as useful to this process now as the steel tieback that once held in place a 40-foot section of concrete ceiling over eastbound Interstate 90.

The Japanese say fix the problem, not the blame. Those affected by this disaster seem to be saying: fix the problem, then assess the blame. And assess it in a way that rotates heads.

Of the reams of news coverage, scores of interviews and hours of video, the most enlightening analysis to date is from a 58-year-old Dorchester man who told the Globe: “Only $14.6 billion, you think it might work.”




 

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