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Traffic begins flowing through Big Dig tunnel where woman died

BOSTON --Traffic began flowing through the Big Dig tunnel where a woman was crushed to death in a July ceiling collapse early Sunday morning.

The eastbound lanes of the I-90 Connector tunnel, where 39-year-old Milena Del Valle was killed, links I-90 to the Ted Williams Tunnel, Logan International Airport and points north of Boston. The lanes had been closed to traffic since the accident.

Workers reopened the eastbound portion of the tunnel at about 1:30 a.m. Sunday after state and federal inspectors signed off on repairs.

With the reopening, just one tunnel that was closed after the accident remains shut down -- the High Occupancy Vehicle lane in the eastbound tunnel, which is still undergoing repairs. Patrick said it may not open until this spring.

Gov. Deval Patrick, who toured the tunnel Saturday, said he had "full confidence in the repairs."

Del Valle was crushed to death when concrete ceiling panels crushed the car in which she was a passenger. Her husband, who was driving, survived. The family has filed a lawsuit.

Her July 10 death is still the subject of state and federal criminal investigations. Inspectors believe that bolts that held ceiling panels in place came loose because of failures in the epoxy resin designed to glue them in place.

Since September, drivers have been able to travel eastbound on a single lane in the connector that detoured into the Ted Williams Tunnel.

Patrick said Saturday that workers in the eastbound Connector installed a new bracket and hanger system to support the concrete panels along a half mile stretch of the tunnel. The new system was then subjected to a load test and visual inspections. The decision to reopen the tunnel on Sunday came after inspections by both state and federal officials.

"Every single one of those bolts has an inspection paper trail, ... has its own record of who inspected it in what conditions, what tests were used, what the outcomes were, even what the torque was in terms of how they were tightened," Patrick said. "That's the way, it seems to me, you begin to regain the public's confidence."

Patrick said he still intends to create an independent panel to review the Big Dig's finances and construction.

About 31,000 drivers use the Eastbound Connector daily. Repairs to the Eastbound Connector cost about $8 million, Patrick said. Two repair contractors have requested a total of $34 million for repairs in the entire Big Dig following a "stem to stern" review of the system ordered by former Gov. Mitt Romney. State officials have said they believe Big Dig contractors will have to pay for the repairs.

The last major reopening came with in late December in the westbound Connector, which links the Ted Williams Tunnel with I-90. Over Thanksgiving, the state reopened "Ramp D," which allowed westbound traffic from the Ted Williams Tunnel to connect directly to I-93 northbound and southbound.

The troubled Big Dig project buried I-93 underneath Boston and opened new connections to Logan. The $14.6 billion project is the most expensive highway project in U.S. history and had been plagued by cost overruns and leaks before the fatal tunnel collapse.

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