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.)

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