Boston Roulette Update

Investigators looking into the collapse of ceiling panels in a Boston "Big Dig" tunnel have discovered documents that indicate there was a major disagreement over the design of the section of tunnel. It seems that there were questions as to whether the design could support the amount of weight the panels would apply to the bolts.

BOSTON – Investigators probing the fatal collapse of a Big Dig tunnel ceiling have discovered documents showing there was a "substantial dispute" over whether the design of the tunnel was adequate to hold the weight of the ceiling panels, the attorney general said Monday.

Four of the 3-ton panels collapsed onto a car July 10, killing Milena Del Valle, 38, of Boston, and injuring her husband. Since then, engineers have found hundreds of places within the connector tunnel, a main passage to Boston's Logan International Airport, where the bolts are not properly secured.

Attorney General Tom Reilly, who refused to give specifics, said he did not know how the dispute was resolved. He said the designer, the installer and Bechtel/Parsons Brinckerhoff, the company overseeing the Big Dig project, were involved but would not say who raised the questions.

"There was a substantial dispute whether the design was adequate to hold the weight expected," Reilly said.

As investigations and testing on the tunnel system continued, commuters on Monday got their glimpse of the increased traffic hassles that officials say could endure for two months, at least.

A second tunnel ramp, which connects Interstate 90 west to Interstate 93, was closed Sunday after testing showed dozens of problems with the bolts holding up the ceiling. That ramp had been used as part of a detour around the accident scene.

Gov. Mitt Romney has called the ceiling problems a "systemic failure." He met Monday with congressional, state and city leaders to outline his plan for ensuring safety of the roadways and tunnels, and for easing traffic congestion in the meantime.

During any large project there are any number of disputes between the engineers, the contractor and the subcontractor. Some of these can get quite heated, as I can attest by actual experience. Not all of these are meaningful in the end so long as there is a satisfactory resolution, so I would not read to much into this yet. That said, if it turns out a warning was dismissed improperly, there could very well be criminal charges. Professional Engineers have certain legal responsibilities because of the license they hold.

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