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The Boston Globe OnlineBoston.com Boston Globe Online / Easy Pass

Big Dig planners eye earlier finish

By Raphael Lewis, Globe Staff, 04/18/2003

   
 THE SERIES

PART ONE
Bechtel's mistakes drive up cost overruns, and company profits.

Graphics
Bechtel's fee overruns
Map of major conflicts
History of the contract
Contract modifications
Cross section of roadway
Construction cost overruns


PART TWO
State officials overlook and excuse Bechtel's mistakes for a decade.

Graphic
Cost recoveries initiated


PART THREE
Powerfull allies help protect Bechtel and its bottom line.

 FOLLOW-UPS

This series has generated strong response from the state, the public, and Globe columnists.
More Globe coverage

 GLOBE DEFENSE OF SERIES

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

 PHOTO GALLERY

Building a reputation
Bechtel has never shied away from big construction projects, but worldwide achievements are accompanied by controversy.
See past Bechtel projects

 FROM THE ARCHIVES

2001
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

2002
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

2003
Contracts to be reviewed

 RELATED LINKS

Central Artery/Tunnel Project
www.bigdig.com

Bechtel
www.bechtel.com

Parsons Brinckerhoff
www.pbworld.com

State Inspector General reports
On the history of the Central Artery/Tunnel project's finances:
www.state.ma.us/ig/publ/cat01ex.htm
On the Central Artery/Tunnel project's attempts to recover money for mistakes:
www.state.ma.us/ig/publ/catcrex.htm

About "Scheme Z" bridge design
libraries.mit.edu/rotch/artery/

State oversight of the Big Dig
www.state.ma.us/catocc/

Mass. Turnpike Authority
www.massturnpike.com

The Artery Business Committee
www.arterybusiness.com

 ONLINE CHAT

On February 11, 2003, Globe reporter Raphael Lewis chatted with Boston.com readers about the Bechtel series.
Transcript of chat

 CONTACT THE GLOBE

Any tips? Let us know.
Phone: 617-929-3379
E-mail: bigdigtips@globe.com

 MORE BOSTON.COM COVERAGE


Beyond the Big Dig   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. Info
 


Fearful that the Big Dig will encounter additional delays and cost millions of dollars more than current estimates, the project's managers have been quietly hashing out a plan to open the last section of tunnel roadway as early as Thanksgiving weekend.

Dubbed Plan B, the new method of completing the downtown portion of southbound Interstate 93 would probably cost tens of millions of dollars up front to speed up the schedule, officials said yesterday. But they also said it could save money in the long run by dramatically reducing construction time and overhead costs.

The numbers will not be finalized until next week, when the Big Dig's private-sector managers, Bechtel/

Parsons Brinckerhoff, finish a cost-benefit analysis that will compare the immediate costs with any savings from shortening the work schedule.

Turnpike Authority chairman Matthew J. Amorello said he will make a final decision on the plan based on that analysis.

The decision hinges on the money, said project director Michael P. Lewis.

"It's really not an engineering obstacle," said Lewis, who has led the effort to shave as much as four months off the current plan by shifting traffic and work schedules in the area of Dewey Square.

Several powerful business and political interests already apprised of the plan are enthusiastic, because it would ensure a smooth flow of traffic for the Democratic National Convention in July 2004.

Mayor Thomas M. Menino said yesterday that project officials had assured him that I-93 south would be finished in time for the convention, with or without Plan B.

"If they get it done by next week, I'd be happier," Menino said. "I'm realistic. I know it takes a while for these things, but we would like to have it open for the convention."

Richard Dimino -- president of the Artery Business Committee, a group of downtown business representatives and residents -- said his committee endorses the plan because it might allow Big Dig workers to tear down the unsightly elevated Artery near the FleetCenter before the Democrats convene there.

"That would give visitors a real vision of the great future, and the opportunities of Boston," Dimino said.

Because of previous delays, the southbound tunnel had not been expected to open before March 30, 2004. The several months of work required to dismantle the elevated Artery wasn't due to begin until the tunnel was completed.

For several years, project officials expected to open the I-93 south portion of the Big Dig by Dec. 10. But that plan seemed doomed by late 2001, after a leak in the Fort Point Channel tunnel forced a protracted work stoppage. The delays were compounded when installation of the road system's electronic control network fell well behind schedule.

As a result, I-93 north did not open until March 29, 3 1/2 months late. It was assumed at that point that I-93 south would follow a year later.

But federal auditors suggested in a report this week that March 2004 was optimistic. A study of the Big Dig's schedule conducted for the US Department of Transportation's inspector general found that the tunnel might not be finished until June 10, 2004, which would cost tens of millions of dollars and nearly empty the project's rapidly diminishing contingency fund. It would also bring the project's completion right up against the Democratic National Convention, scheduled to bring about 25,000 visitors to the city.

The contractor responsible for finishing the last quarter-mile of roadway on I-93 south is Modern Continental Construction Co., which is in such dire fiscal health that the state has been forced to warn bond investors that the company could go bankrupt. Bankruptcy would be expected to delay work and drive up costs.

Project documents show that Modern Continental has fallen several weeks behind schedule on the I-93 south job. More than a quarter of the work was to be completed by now, but because of the delays to the northbound tunnel opening, Modern Continental has finished less than 20 percent, the documents show.

Lewis said yesterday that project officials are negotiating with Modern Continental executives about the speed-up plan, which could place even greater immediate financial hardships on the firm. To accelerate work, Modern Continental would need to have enough cash on hand to pay for the extra shifts and overtime required by Plan B. But the firm would be paid at a higher rate for the accelerated work, making Plan B more profitable in the long run. The company's officials declined to comment.

Last month, the Turnpike Authority was prepared to increase Modern Continental's I-93 south contract by $25 million, or 6 percent of the original $415 million bid price, because the firm says it has encountered 345 separate obstacles and issues since beginning work last summer.

Sean O'Neill, a Big Dig spokesman, said the $25 million contract increase, which has not been finalized, had nothing to do with Modern Continental's precarious fiscal situation or with Plan B and was instead geared to resolving the 345 claims for additional funds that Modern has submitted. But Plan B, if adopted, might render some of those 345 issues irrelevant, he added.

The current construction plan calls for sending traffic through a new, quarter-mile submerged highway section near International Place and then into the west side of the Dewey Square Tunnel while workers rehabilitate the other side. While details of Plan B haven't been disclosed, it includes leaving traffic in the east side of the tunnel, where it currently flows. Under Plan B, the new tunnel would open as early as Nov. 28.

Lewis said Plan B would have no impact on the final completion date for the Big Dig, which will probably be May 27, 2005. But Lewis said his staff, as well as Bechtel/Parsons, are also looking for ways to hasten that schedule.

Raphael Lewis can be reached at rlewis@globe.com.

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