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Holey crap

I haven't said too much about the Big Dig and the recent ceiling panel collapse that killed a woman in Boston this week, as I thought it was pretty much a local story, but the absurdity and obscenity keeps growing -- much like the cost of the Big Dig itself. And since about 80% of the 14.6-billion-dollar (and rising) cost came from the federal government (meaning, everybody kicked in for this mess), I think it's fair game to discuss.

I got ribbed last week for doing disjointed, bullet-point, postings, but I really think that style will work best here.

  • The tunnel was designed with 3-ton slabs of concrete suspended over the roadways, very much in the style of suspended ceilings.
  • Those slabs served absolutely no functional purpose; they were hung up there for purely aesthetic considerations.
  • The bolts securing those slabs were questioned back in 1999.
  • The chairman of the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority, Matt Amorello, has been under fire by the governor (to whom he nominally works for) in a power struggle in Massachusetts. The Legislature (House 86.25% Democratic, Senate 85% Democratic) has used the Turnpike (and the Big Dig) as a dumping ground for patronage jobs and a source for campaign contributions. They have fought (and won) to keep the Authority out of the oversight of the governor (Republican Mitt Romney) ever since he took office back in 2002.
  • Massachusetts Attorney General (and gubernatorial candidate) Tom Reilly has announced a criminal investigation into the Monday evening collapse.
  • Under Massachusetts law, the Attorney General can also act as a private attorney while holding office.
  • Tom Reilly is Matt Amorello's personal attorney.
  • Neither Reilly nor Amorello see no conflict of interest in Reilly ordering a criminal investigation into Mr. Amorello's organization while representing Mr. Amorello's interests.
  • Since Monday evening, another 60 bolts in this utterly useless ceiling design have been found to be of questionable quality.
  • And authorities haven't even started checking the opposite lane of the highway.
  • The various tunnels have been plagued with leaks, crumbling ceilings, and other quality issues since they opened.
  • Mr. Amorello repeatedly assured the public that the "tunnels are safe" right up until Monday evening.
  • Since then, Mr. Amorello has not repeated that claim, but has repeatedly described it as a "tragedy."
  • "Tragedy," as in "this random event could not have been foreseen."
  • Commuters in and around Boston are utterly screwed, as officials closed and tore down the existing elevated Central Artery as each element of the Big Dig opened. People cannot go back to the old roads and routes, as they simply don't exist any more.
  • Congressman Barney Frank had some of the best lines back when the Big Dig was being debated. He once speculated that instead of depressing the Central Artery below ground, it might be cheaper in the long run to simply raise the rest of the city. And on that depressing of the roadway, he said it would be easier to simply have Mike Dukakis read a speech to it.

And this is only scratching the surface, people.

So enjoy the coverage of Boston's tunnel woes, folks. We might as well get a laugh or two out of all the money we've paid for it.

(Update: A couple of commenters who seem to know what they are talking about (unlike myself) have presented cogent, functional reasons for why those 3-ton tiles were there over the roadway, and why they were made from concrete. The error I made -- along with a lot of others -- was in hearing reports that the tiles "served no structural purpose" and interpreted that to mean "served only a cosmetic purpose." The officials were assuring the public that while they may get squashed by a falling slab of concrete, that would in no way cause the whole tunnel to collapse.)

Comments (17)

A gigantic hole that killed... (Below threshold)

A gigantic hole that killed a woman in a car?

Yeah, name it after Ted Kennedy.

Those slabs served... (Below threshold)
Those slabs served absolutely no functional purpose; they were hung up there for purely aesthetic considerations.

I was wondering about that. So vast amounts of money were spent on unnecessary and potentially deadly ceiling panels.

Great post JT. Being from t... (Below threshold)

Great post JT. Being from the Louisiana area, I find it incredible that a state other than Louisiana, especially one leaning so far left, can actually be more corrupt. In Louisiana we have always been "proud" of our corruption - basically telling the rest of the country just so. Years ago, we even had a West Baton Rouge Sheriff run his re-election campaign from his jail cell - serving time for corruption. And he won easily.
But I now have to bow down. We have been outclassed by Massachusettes. This is depressing. I think I'll have to go home and drink a few hurricanes.

"Neither Reilly nor Amorell... (Below threshold)

"Neither Reilly nor Amorello see no conflict of interest in Reilly ordering a criminal investigation into Mr. Amorello's organization while representing Mr. Amorello's interests."


I am just not sure what reality these people live in. I remember the patronage hiring from my time up there(1999-2003) and it should be noted that it was no limited to Democrats. I am sure Jay remembers Virginia Buckingham being named to head MassPort by Paul Celluci even though she had zero experience for the job. Why is this important? MassPort runs Logan Airport which was the origin of the two flights which hit the WTC.

I miss MA politics since it was so entertaining. I am glad I have Wizbang to keep me up to date.

"Those slabs served absolut... (Below threshold)

"Those slabs served absolutely no functional purpose; they were hung up there for purely aesthetic considerations."

Seems stupid, no? It should, because, well, the slaps DO serve a functional purpose and were not hung up there for pure aesthetics.

Their function is to provide a duct space for the removal of toxic gasses. It is part of the design of the air filtration system in the tunnel.

Would other designs have been preferable? Of course. But the slabs were not purely decorative so, a fundamental fact here is in error.

The comment about the slabs... (Below threshold)

The comment about the slabs being for a gas duct system may be right. But that does seem odd. Ducts are subject to pressure changes and surges - it is almost in the definition. And even a small pressure change can exert enormous force because of the large surface area of the duct.

Concrete is not well suited for that. Metals properly alloyed and flexible materials make better ducts. But there are many mixes of concrete and concrete reinforced and quasi-concrete that may have been used.

There are exceptions to almost anything. And concrete duct material might have been the right choice here. Since others seem familar with the design I welcome comments.

Were the concrete panels th... (Below threshold)

Were the concrete panels there to hide the metallic or plastic ductwork above? That still makes the panels non-functional except for protecting the ducts.

Why is Reilly doing legal w... (Below threshold)

Why is Reilly doing legal work for Amorello, a Republican? (I actually worked a little for Amorello's re-election campaign to the state legislature way back in college, 14 years ago)

I'm not an engineer but it ... (Below threshold)

I'm not an engineer but it sounds like some light weight fiberglass or similiar panels would do the job without the danger. Did someone's cousin own a concrete plant? Yep, you can bet on it.

I'm told that the reason li... (Below threshold)

I'm told that the reason lightweight materials were not used is that when the enormous fans that turn on to exhaust smoke (from car fires) kick off, lightweight materials would vibrate too much.

The cement tiles' weight, therefore, wasn't merely cosmetic or the result of a cement-plant-owning-cousin.

(Not defending the way they hung these, just noting that a critical fact underlying this post is mostly incorrect.)

We'll surely see this on an episode of "Modern Marvels, Engineering Disasters" soon.

Actually, the tunnel slabs ... (Below threshold)

Actually, the tunnel slabs did have a functional use.

From what I've heard, they were put in there to allow air flow into the tunnel. I heard a comment from one of the contractors saying that even though they help air flow into the tunnel, taking the ceiling slabs out would not affect the functionality of the tunnels themselves.

I heard that on the radio last night.

They're agitating here in S... (Below threshold)

They're agitating here in Seattle for another Big Dig -- putting the viaduct in a tunnel underground.

We keep pointing at Boston and pointing out HOW such a BAD idea this is. They aren't listening yet.

The reality is that the sla... (Below threshold)

The reality is that the slabs form one "wall" of the ventilation chamber for the tunnel. Since the failed panels are near the exit of the tunnel, removing all the top slabs will not dramatically affect the exhaust of the ventilation chamber. Removing panels from the middle ventilation section would be another matter altogether. WRT pressure, fluid through a tube usually either high perssure-low volume, or high volume-low pressure. The latter is the case with almost all ventilation systems used in commercial situations. This is because, in part, of the costs of containing flow under high pressure. Reinforced concrete is the choice material for roadway tunnel because, if mixed and cured appropriately, it can withstand high temps, and high vibrations while retaining its form when subject to impact and pressure waves (such as from a vehicle accident or exploding fuel tanks). Composite or plastic material is light, but not very durable compared to industrial spec'ed reinforced concrete, like this panels.

I should have said, removin... (Below threshold)

I should have said, removing the top slabs from the end of the tunnel will not dramatically affect the exhaust of the ventilation chamber. Removing panels from the middle of the tunnel vent section would be another matter altogether.

Scrapiron: Doesn't fibergl... (Below threshold)

Scrapiron: Doesn't fiberglass burn? It seems like a bit of an issue in the event of a fire in the tunnel.

I haven't found any evidence of Reilly being Amorello's lawyer. That would seem rather curious as Reilly is a Democrat, Amorello a Republican, and Reilly has been asking for Amorello to resign.

Reilly isn't even the frontrunner for the race anyway.

I think you might be right in your first statement. This is a local issue. We here in Boston don't need outsiders browbeating us when a local resident was killed by the negligence of a construction company. Our political leaders (not unelected, unaccountable private highway management organization) are trying to refer this to the NTSB for investigation.

Matt Amorello is most defin... (Below threshold)

Matt Amorello is most definitely NOT a Republican.

He's a former Democratic state senator. An out-and-out hack if there ever was one.

Massachusetts Attorney General and gubernatorial candidate Tom Reilly, also a Democrat, is Matt Amorello's personal attorney.

Reilly is now "investigating" his own client. No doubt, Amorello will be officially "cleared" of any wrongdoing by Reilly.

For those who aren't from Massachusetts ... the Democrats control all aspects of state government, except the Governor, who has no power over the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority - run by Democrat Matt Amorello.

Republican Mitt Romney has been attempting to remove Amorello for years, but has been blocked by Democrat hackorama's in the legislature.

Amorello must be a phantom ... (Below threshold)

Amorello must be a phantom Democrat

Here he is running as a Republican against Jim McGovern for the 3rd district


What is Amorello the "Democrat" doing contributing to the Bush campaign?







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