The Federal Highway Administration has reached agreement with former Central Artery/Tunnel project management consultant Bechtel/Parsons Brinckerhoff over a fatal Interstate 90 tunnel plenum collapse that culminated in January with a $407.1-million settlement with the U.S. Attorney and the Massachusetts Attorney General. As part of the deal, the two firms will not be debarred from federal work but must implement further quality-assurance measures on future large federally funded projects.

Falling Interstate 90 tunnel plenum panels killed local woman, sparking investigations.
Photo: NTSB
Falling Interstate 90 tunnel plenum panels killed local woman, sparking investigations.

Bechtel Infrastructure Corp, Frederick, Md., paid out $357.1 million in the settlement and Parsons Brinckerhoff Quade and Douglas Inc., now New York City-based PB Americas Inc., paid $50 million. The firms teamed for 20 years to oversee the $15-billion CA/T, which replaced an antiquated viaduct with a gateway bridge and tunnel complex linking I-93, I-90 and Logan International Airport.

Although separate agreements were signed by the firms in September and ratified in October by FHWA, the information was not released until recently at the request of ENR. “We believe the conditions agreed to by these companies enhance further the federal government's commitment to corporate ethics and quality assurance,” says FHWA spokesman Doug Hecox. “America depends on its roads and bridges now more than ever and, in turn, we depend on the highest ethical standard of those who build them.”

The agreements are similar and incorporate separate corporate-ethics and quality-assurance compliance agreements that were part of the Massachusetts settlement. That deal helped avoid state debarment as well as criminal and civil claims. Under the FHWA agreement, both firms agree they will conduct annual quality-assurance audits in areas where they have substantial inspection responsibility, and implement standard protocols for concrete inspection when reasonably practicable on any federally funded highway project costing $500 million or more. In PB’s case, the agreement applies to projects in which they have more than 10 field inspectors on a qualifying job.

The corporate ethics agreements and new FHWA settlements expire in January 2011. “The agreement with FHWA is consistent with Bechtel Infrastructure’s commitment to continuously improve its corporate-compliance and quality-assurance programs as part of a rigorous and on-going assessment in which safety, quality and integrity are the priorities," says Francis Canavan, Bechtel spokesman.

The FHWA deal also calls for both firms to file a “lessons learned” report on CA/T quality-control procedures. Both firms have submitted the reports but they were not available to ENR at press time.

“PB Americas Inc...signed a compliance agreement in September 2008 with the Federal Highway Administration as the final agreement of the settlement entered into with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and the United States in January 2008 related to the Central Artery and Tunnel project,” says George J. Pierson, COO of PB Americas Inc. “As part of the resolution of issues related to the project, PB voluntarily proposed to formalize certain internal reforms in a compliance agreement with...Massachusetts as well as the FHWA. Although its documentation was delayed, the compliance agreement with FHWA tracks very closely to and is co-terminus with the agreement signed with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. At no time were debarment or suspension proceedings commenced or threatened against PB by the Federal Highway Administration. PB has proceeded to implement the terms of the compliance agreements.”

The Massachusetts settlement followed months of hard negotiations about slurry wall tunnel leaks and the 2006 I-90 plenum collapse. The state will use most of the money from the January settlement for a Central Artery repair and maintenance trust fund.