After a three-month-long study, the National Academy of Engineering claims that costand schedule gains can still be made on Boston's $14.6-billion Central Artery/Tunnel project, which is set for an early 2005 completion. The report recommends that project officials develop plans to expedite more than 3,500 disputed payments valued at $230 million and begin switching from construction to operations and maintenance, downsizing the role of joint venture project consultant Bechtel/Parsons Brinckerhoff.

MOVING ALONG Coat savings can still be made as construction winds down by moving from consultants to operations people. (Photo courtesy of Big Dig.com)

The Massachusetts Turnpike Authority, which has managed CA/T since 1997, last summer hired the Washington, D.C.-based academy to perform the $300,000 study on future project management issues (ENR 7/15/2002 p. 11). The academy is an independent non-profit group formed by Congress to advise the government on scientific and technical matters. The 49-page report, released Feb. 21, was reviewed by 10 additional experts before being sent to MTA.

"The MTA can save time and money by making the changes our study found to be achievable," says John T. Christian, the academy's report committee chairman and a consulting engineer from Waban, Mass. The seven-member review committee, which includes two academics and retired engineering managers from General Motors Corp., the city of Seattle and the California Dept. of Transportation, found that construction and engineering claims, with an average age of 600 days, need urgent resolution. The report proposes setting a deadline of July 2004 to settle all outstanding claims.

By expediting payment and approval of design and construction contract changes, CA/T management could eliminate future delays and more cost overruns. "It's a big uncertainty because you have lots of claims and the longer the process lasts, the harder it is to resolve them because of their age and the loss of institutional memory," says Christian.

The committee also would like to eliminate a $250,000 threshold requiring claims to be automatically sent to legal staff. "It's an invitation to litigation," says Christian. The report recommends letting engineers and contractors resolve technical issues before proceeding with legal cost recovery efforts."It is most effective to resolve issues with the professionals directly involved, although the legal team does bring discipline needed to resolve outstanding issues in another venue, if needed," says Michael P. Lewis, CA/T project director.

About $1.6 billion already has been paid out for changes and claims. "We've been paying, on average, about 50% of the amount claimed and we have contingency money in the budget for future events," says C. Matt Wiley, B/PB program manager.

With all design work and about 85% of construction work finished, the report also recommends developing a process to transition from construction to O&M, replacing consultant staff with MTA employees. "MTA is already staffing up, and we have a B/PB staff reduction plan in place," says Lewis. The joint venture's 512 employees will drop to about 400 by summer. "It's strictly related to the closing out of construction, such as I-90 and the upcoming I-93 northbound work," says Lewis. But the report also expresses concern over MTA having sufficient staff to educate the public to physical changes taking place in the city.

The committee also recommends that project managers evaluate schedules to identify remaining critical tasks and that they establish an independent peer review program for remaining issues. "The project has clearly not used independent peer review, but rather it has used people with ties to project organizations for reviews," says Christian. "Our recommendation would provide a sanity check." Lewis says CA/T already is setting up an independent peer review group, possibly including academy members.

"It was an excellent report and will help us begin some strategic moves to finalize completion of CA/T," says MTA Chairman Matthew J. Amorello.