Uneasy over the involvement of Parsons Brinckerhoff, the Department of Transportation’s Board of Directors on Tuesday declined to approve a planning contract that would have paid the firm that oversaw the Big Dig to help plan the extension of the MBTA’s Green Line into Somerville and Medford.
Parsons Brinckerhoff partnered with Bechtel to oversee design and construction of the multibillion-dollar Big Dig, the massive Central Artery/Tunnel project that was beset by delays, engineering difficulties, and cost overruns, and marred by a 2006 ceiling collapse that killed a Jamaica Plain woman.
Although Governor Deval Patrick has expressed concerns about allowing the firm to do business with the state, since 2007 Parsons Brinckerhoff has quietly worked on preliminary design for the Green Line extension -- a nearly $1 billion transit project that the Patrick administration has called one of its top transportation priorities. That has prompted criticism from Patrick’s gubernatorial rivals in recent weeks.
Yesterday, the Patrick-appointed board of directors expressed its own discomfort about Parsons Brinckerhoff’s participation, as well as about a three-year process that has allowed the firm’s involvement to grow significantly without the state seeking new bidders.
“I think we would be better served as an agency if we rebid this project, and with a close eye on subcontractors and their roles,’’ said board member Janice Loux, who is also president of the region’s hotel-workers union.’’
Parsons Brinckerhoff cannot be legally prohibited from working on the Green Line or other projects. The Bechtel/Parsons partnership in 2008 reached a settlement with the attorney general’s office that yielded more than $400 million for the state. The agreement spared the firms from criminal prosecution and did not prevent them from seeking public contracts.
In 2007, the firm became involved in the Green Line as a subcontractor on a $2.8 million contract for environmental review and conceptual design that primarily went to the civil engineering firm Vanasse Hangen Brustlin. That contract has since been amended four times, to a total of $12 million.
The initial contract and the amendments were all signed off by administration officials before the creation last year – by the governor and Legislature – of a board of directors to oversee the newly unified Department of Transportation, after the state’s once-myriad transit and transportation agencies were consolidated.
With the Patrick administration eager to advance the timeline for the long-delayed Green Line project, Transportation officials last month came before the board seeking another amendment to the Vanasse Hangen Brustlin deal, this one worth $24.5 million – to expand the contract’s scope to include preliminary engineering and design of the route, stations, and a related maintenance facility. It was that request the board rejected Tuesday night.
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