Bolt Blues. Ted Williams Tunnel remains partially closed pending fix of slipped bolts (above).(Photos Courtesy of the Massachusetts Governor’s Office)

The political fallout continues in Boston following a fatal air-plenum collapse July 10 in the Interstate 90 cut-and-cover connector tunnel portal. A redundant support system is being readied while the governor prepares to possibly fire the oversight agency chairman.

The accident that dropped 10 tons of concrete onto the road killed a local woman and further tarnished the $14.6-billion Central Artery/Tunnel’s image. Gov. Mitt Romney (R) has scheduled a closed hearing for July 27 to strip Matthew J. Amorello of his chairmanship of the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority, a quasi-public agency that oversees CA/T.

Romney, who has long accused Amorello of management failures, will act as judge and jury during the private hearing. “As this is a personnel matter pertaining to an individual’s employment, neither the statement of charges, nor the hearing itself, will be public,” says Romney’s office in a statement.

MTA did not return ENR calls.  Amorello on July 24 petitioned a state Supreme Court justice to block the hearing.  Amorello was appointed in 2002 to the $223,000-a-year job. Since then, a significant number of leaks were discovered in the I-93 tunnel. Amorello ceded cost recovery efforts to the state attorney general in 2005. In May, six managers from a concrete supplier were charged with fraud. On July 13, Amorello lost control of CA/T inspections to Romney, under an order from the state legislature.

Political suspicion even extends to the Federal Highway Administration. Preceding Amorello, FHWA Administrator J. Richard Capka was MTA executive director from 2001 to 2002. Questions have been raised about FHWA impartiality in the ongoing investigations.

In response to an ENR query, CA/T project consultant Bechtel/Parsons Brinckerhoff through its spokesman issued a memorandum regarding its role and responsibilities on the project. "In its role as management consultant, B/PB was accountable initially to DPW, then after 1992 to MHD, and after 1997, to the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority (MTA). DPW/MHD/MTA, in the role of owner, was responsible for oversight of B/PB and all significant decisions concerning what got built, when, how, and for how much," according to an e-mail response. "B/PB assisted in the decision-making process by developing alternatives and presenting recommendations to the owner on appropriate solutions." For full text of the memo click here.

Solutions and Shutdowns

A final plenum fix is still slowly being developed. Officials are considering a redundant support system— new hangers tied into a cast-in-place unistrut metal support system— or new bolts to supplement the troublesome I-90 epoxy/bolts in the portal. Wherever possible, carrier beam tie-ins to the unistrut system will be used. Some self-undercutting anchor bolts now being tested also will be used. CA/T, FHWA and the state’s Executive Office of Transportation have not yet finalized the design. “We’re still doing design and engineering and looking for approval from the FHWA soon,” says Jon M. Carlisle, EOT spokesman. “Hopefully, we could start construction soon.”  

Romney claims all 1,150 plenum epoxy anchors in the I-90 connector are suspect. Another 300 epoxy anchors that support jet fans and signs are under review as inspectors delve into test records and the design decision process. EOT has hired Purcell Associates, Boston, to assist in inspection. TranSystems Corp., Medford, is preparing the drawings. FHWA sent inquiries to 60 experts nationwide after the accident, but will not reveal the nature of the inquiry or the experts’ names.

The Ted Williams Tunnel connecting to Logan Airport was completed in 1995, one of the first major CA/T accomplishments. Romney closed the eastbound lane of the immersed steel tube overnight on July 20 after a reinspection found that two epoxied bolts supporting one 800-lb plenum panel had slipped 1⁄2 inch and 1 inch, respectively. The tunnel reopened to buses July 21 after being shored with a beam supported by temporary scaffolding. Twelve more problem bolts have since been found in both directions.  “We want to do more pull tests,” says Carlisle.

Parallel investigations by MTA, the National Transportation Safety Board and EOT are ongoing at the I-90 tunnel, an official crime scene.