Three more loose bolts found in Ted Williams Tunnel

Inspectors found three loose bolts in a ceiling panel at the westbound entrance to the Ted Williams harbor tunnel as inspections and tests continued in portions of the $14.6 billion Big Dig highway project where a woman died in a ceiling collapse two weeks ago.

Authorities diverted traffic around the questionable panel and shored it up with a portable support device in the tunnel, which extends Interstate 90 between downtown Boston and Logan International Airport.

"This is a precautionary step. There was no sign of failure, but we are erring on the side of public safety,'' Jon Carlisle, a spokesman for the state Highway Department, said Monday night.

A connector tunnel system leading to the eastbound side of the Ted Williams, as well as ramps leading from the Boston end of the westbound section, have been closed since several 3-ton concrete ceiling panels in the connector tunnel crushed a car on July 10, killing Milena Del Valle, 39, of Boston.

The bolt-and-epoxy system holding up the ceiling panels in those tunnels has been the focus of the subsequent investigation.

The Ted Williams Tunnel's panels are lighter and its suspension system considered more substantial, but the eastbound tunnel was closed for a day last week when two bolts were found to have slipped. Those areas are being reinforced with the same type of portable device as the westbound panel.

The questionable bolts discovered Monday are at the tunnel entrance just beyond toll booths at the airport end. One bolt on a bracket had dislodged about a half inch, while two bolts on another bracket had dislodged about one-eighth of an inch, and one-tenth of an inch, Carlisle said. The two loose bolts found last week in the eastbound section appeared to have slipped one-half inch and one inch.

Gov. Mitt Romney has said the Ted Williams Tunnel would get daily inspections until pull tests on the ceiling panels could be completed.

The pull tests were to be conducted overnight on Monday in the eastbound Ted Williams, Carlisle said. Buses have been the only traffic allowed in the eastbound tunnel, while general traffic has been using the westbound side.

State and federal officials are investigating the ceiling failure.

Attorney General Tom Reilly already had been leading the state cost recovery efforts with the Big Dig project's overseer, Bechtel/Parsons Brinckerhoff, and is pursuing a state criminal case related to the ceiling collapse. Reilly's spokesman suggested Monday that a liability cap and lost-revenue clauses in state agreements with Bechtel/Parsons Brinckerhoff could complicate his cost-recovery efforts.

"But the final chapter on Bechtel in Massachusetts isn't written yet, and we'll do everything we can to hold them and anyone else accountable for their failures on this project,'' David Guarino, Reilly's communications director said in a statement.

Andrew Paven, a spokesman for Bechtel/Parsons Brinckerhoff, declined to comment.

One agreement limited the money that could be recovered to the state's insurance protection, plus 150 percent of the management fee received Bechtel/Parsons Brinckerhoff. That fee has been estimated at $150 million. The second agreement altered the liability limit so it included the insurance protection, plus $100 million from Bechtel/ Parsons Brinckerhoff.

State officials later estimated the state's insurance protection at $50 million, meaning the contract limited Bechtel/Parsons /Brinckerhoff's liability to $150 million in total.

Also on Monday, Massachusetts Turnpike Authority Chairman Matt Amorello, who has overseen the beleaguered Big Dig project, filed a lawsuit seeking to prevent the governor from holding a hearing on Thursday seeking to demote him from his $223,000-a-year post. Romney has long criticized his management of the Big Dig, and renewed calls for his ouster as chairman since the fatal ceiling collapse. Amorello's lawyers contend that the governor does not have the authority to demote him.

"The governor has invented a power he does not have,'' according to the 12-page lawsuit.

Eric Fehrnstrom, a Romney spokesman, countered: "We are confident that we are acting within the law, and we will make our argument in court.''

Amorello's spokeswoman, Mariellen Burns, said the governor's actions are "politically motivated.''

The continued wrangling over Amorello's job came on the same day Romney appointed former Fidelity Investments executive Judy Pagliuca to the Turnpike board, days after learning he violated a state law by stacking the board with fellow Republicans.

Pagliuca, who is not enrolled in a political party, replaces Romney's former consumer affairs secretary, Beth Lindstrom, who was appointed July 1, as the governor prepared to gain control over the five-member board that oversees the Big Dig highway project.

(Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

This program aired on July 25, 2006. The audio for this program is not available.


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