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EASY PASS | PAST BIG DIG COVERAGE
Officials disclose more Big Dig defects
Fire alarms, road surfaces need fix
By Raphael Lewis, Globe Staff, 02/01/2002
entral Artery officials, stung by press reports highlighting construction flaws and potential lapses in the Big Dig's quality assurance program, detailed a series of previously undisclosed glitches yesterday in an effort to prove the success of the important project.
Nevertheless, officials revealed at least one construction defect, stemming from the rush to open the Ted Williams Tunnel in December 1995, that Massachusetts taxpayers will pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to repair.
The problems, which include substandard fire alarms in the Ted Williams Tunnel, several stretches of flawed road surface, and peeling blue paint on 330 lampposts, were detected and are being dealt with "exactly as they should," project director Michael Lewis said.
"We will make mistakes, and there will be dozens of issues between now and the end of the project," Lewis said. "The point is that we feel we have the right nets in place to catch these issues to, number one, prevent any safety issues, and number two, ensure that the Commonwealth's taxpayers get the product they paid for."
Nearly all of the newly revealed problems, which were discovered by field engineers with the project's management consultant, Bechtel/Parsons Brinckerhoff, are likely to be fixed by summer's end, Lewis said.
Most of the defective work, minor compared to the size of the $14.5 billion project, will be repaired at no cost to taxpayers, which Lewis claimed is a testament to the quality assurance program's effectiveness.
He also credited Bechtel/Parsons, which some state lawmakers and others have accused of failing to identify and repair problems in a timely fashion.
The public will pay for the repairs involving problematic concrete road overlays installed late in 1995 near the Ted Williams Tunnel toll booths, officials acknowledged. The overlays, designed to make road surfaces stronger and less prone to damage from salt, never properly adhered to the surface below and must be replaced. Similar problems exist in small patches on the new elevated portion of Interstate 93 Southbound, on the South Boston bypass road, and on a ramp leading to the Ted Williams Tunnel.
While the other repairs will be funded by the contractors who installed them, taxpayers will pay for work on about 400-square feet of problematic pavement on the westbound ramp.
The cause of the problem, officials said, is simple: the temperature was too cold for the overlay to properly adhere to the underlying surface, but work pressed ahead anyway in the rush to open the tunnel on time.
Repair costs will not exceed $1 million, officials said, but they did not regret opening the road despite the cold weather.
"You make a decision weighing the value of opening this thing to the public versus the risk of the surface application problem," Lewis said. "Is it worth the risk of X number of dollars to save multiple times that? That was the thinking."
Another area where the "latex modified concrete" overlay is detaching itself is around the toll booths. That area is far larger, officials said, but analysis shows that the contractor responsible, the joint venture of Modern Continental/Obayashi, did not properly apply a subsurface.
Taxpayers may pay for some of that problem, too, project spokesman Sean O'Neill acknowledged, because some of the flaws may also be tied to the hastened tunnel ribbon-cutting: "We could end up sharing the cost."
Peter Donahue, the Central Artery/Tunnel project's area design manager, said the areas will most likely get repaired when warmer weather returns.
Donahue and O'Neill denied that the repairs have been late in coming, even though the problems were first detected soon after the Dec. 15, 1995, tunnel opening, which many say was hastened to bolster former Governor William F. Weld's campaign for US Senate.
"If there are other milestones to reach that are more important, [the contractors] go ahead and do that," O'Neill said. "You don't stop building the entire house if the mailbox is broken. You evaluate it based on importance."
As for the substandard fire alarms in the Williams Tunnel, officials said the devices work fine and pose no risk to the public. However, contract specifications called for the alarms to work in subfreezing temperatures. Because Underwriters Laboratories Inc., which rates the alarms, does not test for such conditions, the contractors simply installed alarms that met the other specifications, Lewis said. Now, the contractor must encase the devices to protect them from the elements.
Officials acknowledged that the Tunnel's electronic traffic sensors, which are used to detect jam-ups and accidents, also do not work. Those will be fixed shortly.This story ran on page B2 in the Metro/Region section of the Boston Globe on 02/01/2002.
© Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.