n the strongest demonstration yet of outrage over Big Dig mistakes, the state Senate yesterday voted 38-0 to extend the statute of limitations for recouping money lost to poor decisions and flawed work by the project's private-sector managers.
Bechtel's mistakes drive up cost overruns, and company profits.
Bechtel's fee overruns
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History of the contract
Cross section of roadway
Construction cost overruns
State officials overlook and excuse Bechtel's mistakes for a decade.
Cost recoveries initiated
Powerfull allies help protect Bechtel and its bottom line.
This series has generated strong response from the state, the public, and Globe columnists.
More Globe coverage
On Feb. 20, 2003, Bechtel/Parsons Brinckerhoff issued a document disputing the findings of the "Easy Pass" series. Globe editor Martin Baron responded with a defense of the Globe's reporting.
Read Bechtel's statement
Read the Globe's statement
Building a reputation
Bechtel has never shied away from big construction projects, but worldwide achievements are accompanied by controversy.
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Review cites flaws at Big Dig
Cerasoli charges Big Dig coverup
$1.4b overrun known in '99
Firm rejects call to offset costs
'99 memos warned of tunnel leaks
Officials disclose more defects
Lawsuit raises Big Dig questions
State to reopen deal with Bechtel
Big Dig hires quality manager
US knew of hidden expenses
Big Dig overrun just plain big
SEC probers to target Big Dig
Big Dig review to target overruns
Turnpike, firm set deal on leak cost
Contracts to be reviewed
Central Artery/Tunnel Project
State Inspector General reports
On the history of the Central Artery/Tunnel project's finances:
On the Central Artery/Tunnel project's attempts to recover money for mistakes:
About "Scheme Z" bridge design
State oversight of the Big Dig
Mass. Turnpike Authority
The Artery Business Committee
On February 11, 2003, Globe reporter Raphael Lewis chatted with Boston.com readers about the Bechtel series.
Transcript of chat
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What happens to the ribbon of land being created by the depression of the Central Artery? A joint effort between The Boston Globe, MIT, and WCVB-TV explores.
A special report
Progress updates on the Big Dig.
''We cannot sit back and say, `Oops, too late,' '' said state Senator Steven A. Baddour, a Methuen Democrat who helped draft the bill.
Currently, the statute of limitations bars the state from filing legal claims for overruns that happened more than six years ago, which would leave off-limits much of the $1.6 billion already tallied in cost growth. Under the bill passed yesterday, the cutoff for claims would be pushed to 10 years after the Big Dig is completed -- now projected for 2005 -- giving state lawyers ample time to assemble a strong argument for recovery.
The measure, which passed after just 10 minutes of debate, was written this week by a bipartisan group of state senators and representatives in reaction to a Globe series about errors by project manager Bechtel/Parsons Brinckerhoff, lawmakers said.
The bill still needs House and gubernatorial approval. But a spokesman for House Speaker Thomas M. Finneran said he expects ''no opposition'' in the House when the measure is taken up in the next two weeks. Governor Mitt Romney has said he supports any legislation that strengthens the state's ability to recover money for mistakes.
Several senators said they were outraged by the possibility that project managers could get away without having to reimburse the state for mistakes. State Senator Mark C. Montigny, chairman of the long-term debt committee, announced yesterday that the Senate will hold subpoena-powered hearings soon to look into the reason for the $1.6 billion in cost growth, and why the state has never gotten money back from Bechtel. The hearing will include scrutiny of project documents, and testimony from Bechtel officials.
''These questions should be answered on the record, and in full view of the taxpaying public,'' Montigny said. ''The party is over, and somebody has to pay.''
A Bechtel spokesman could not be reached for comment, but in the past the company has said it welcomes the opportunity to defend its work on the Big Dig.
Meanwhile, project director Michael P. Lewis, who headed the Big Dig's cost recovery team for six years, defended his work.
''I'm very proud of the effort on cost recovery,'' Lewis said yesterday, in his first public comments since the Globe series ran. ''I don't minimize the need at all to review the performance of design professionals and contractors'' to ensure taxpayers get back money lost to errors.
The Globe investigation found that Lewis failed for two years, in 1998 and 1999, to hold meetings on cost recovery, opened no new cases, and recovered no money from Bechtel.
But Lewis insisted yesterday that his work never flagged. He said that, despite a lack of any documentation to prove the point, he and his colleagues in federal and state government did meet in 1998 and 1999 to discuss possible cases against the private-sector managers. He said the meetings were informal.
However, Lewis's boss, Turnpike chairman Matthew Amorello, said there was much to be critical about in the project's cost-recovery program, which has yielded just $35,707 out of $1.6 billion in construction cost overruns.
Yet, when reporters at project headquarters asked Lewis if he should resign, Amorello stepped in, offering qualified support for Lewis's stewardship.
''I think the confidence I have in Mr. Lewis is there,'' Amorello said. ''He's here with me now.''
Lewis said he believes he has helped strengthen the project's reputation, and denied the allegation -- made in a Bechtel memo -- that he directed project officials to ''sanitize'' the Big Dig's budget to hide costs from federal overseers. The memo, written by a Bechtel budget chief, said that Lewis directed William H. Edwards, Bechtel's budget manager, to exclude about $330 million from the Big Dig's bottom line before a meeting with federal overseers. Lewis said the federal officials were indeed made aware of the exclusions, despite Edwards's memo.
Regardless, Amorello said that ultimate responsibility for failings in the cost recovery process rested with him, and he pledged to work with Romney to institute stringent cost control measures. That will include the hiring of an independent engineering firm to review all of the $1.6 billion in construction cost overruns.
Raphael Lewis of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Sean P. Murphy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, and Rick Klein at email@example.com.