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House Approves Tunnel Inspection Plan

This article is more than 13 years old.

The U.S. House on Tuesday approved a national highway tunnel inspection program aimed at preventing incidents like the Big Dig's fatal ceiling collapse of 2006.

In its report on the collapse, the National Transportation Safety Board called for a mandatory federal tunnel inspection program similar to the one already used for the nation's bridges. There are no national standards for tunnel inspections.

Rep. Michael Capuano, a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, led the effort on Capitol Hill for the measure, which passed the House on a voice vote.

"Hopefully we'll be able to get something done without another tragedy happening,'' Capuano said. "It will standardize what the rules are so that every tunnel you pass through, in theory, should be held to the same standard.''

The NTSB's report said the use of the wrong glue to secure concrete ceiling slabs was the likely cause of the July 10, 2006, collapse that killed Milena Del Valle. The collapse caused 26 tons of concrete ceiling panels to come crashing down on her car as the 39-year-old mother of three and her husband drove through an Interstate 90 connector tunnel.

The report spread the blame among multiple Big Dig contractors and project overseers.

One of the report's major findings was that that the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority failed to implement a timely tunnel inspection program. Such a program, the NTSB concluded, likely would have detected problems with the adhesive anchors and enabled them to be fixed before the accident.

Capuano said while some states such as Massachusetts do inspect some tunnels already, a national inspection program is needed to insure quality and to safeguard drivers. The legislation was modeled after the Nationwide Bridge Inspection Program which requires that all highway bridges be inspected and establishes a series of minimum inspection standards.

Since there are no national standards for highway tunnel inspections, tunnel owners are responsible for determining how their tunnels should be inspected, Capuano said. He wants a stronger role for the federal government in safeguarding the public from tunnel accidents.

The legislation would require the U.S. Secretary of Transportation to set minimum inspection requirements for tunnels. It would also make inspections of all highway tunnels mandatory. Bridges are already subject to such standardized inspections, Capuano said.

As with the national bridge inspection program, states would be required to maintain an inventory of all highway tunnel inspection reports, including information detailing any follow up actions relating to inspections, according to Capuano. Massachusetts Sens. Edward Kennedy and John Kerry are expected to champion the measure in the Senate, said Capuano.

This program aired on January 23, 2008. The audio for this program is not available.

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