Romney Takes Control of 'Big Dig' Probe

Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney signs an emergency bill giving him broad powers to inspect the huge Boston highway construction project known as the "Big Dig." Safety worries emerged after a fatal tunnel collapse. The tunnel remains closed.

Copyright © 2006 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Michele Norris.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

The investigation of Boston's Big Dig highway project is now in the hands of Massachusetts's governor Mitt Romney. On Monday, a woman was killed by falling concrete in a Big Dig tunnel. Today the governor signed emergency legislation that gives him control over the investigation, as well as final say on when and if the tunnel can reopen.

Governor MITT ROMNEY (Republican, Massachusetts): I'm in charge of the inspection and safety of the tunnel system. And I will not reopen a section of the tunnel until I'm personally convinced that it's safe to do so.

BLOCK: That's Governor Mitt Romney of Massachusetts. And joining us now from Boston, is NPR's Tovia Smith. Tovia, what can you tell us about the investigation so far?

TOVIA SMITH reporting:

Well, you may remember just about 36 hours ago, we were told that there were 60 suspicious bolts. Now the number is more than 260 and there are 360 or so additional, what they're calling, items of concern.

Now officials are making clear that that doesn't mean that they're all problems. In the case of the bolts, for example, it just means they can see a plate that's got more than 1/16th of an inch gap from the ceiling. So it may be that the bolts had given way a bit and it is being strained. Or it may be that it was just installed that way, not quite tightened all the way.

There's no way to tell yet, because so far they've only looked at these things. They're just now getting ready to test them, to literally start tugging on these bolts.

In the meantime they say, engineering firms are trying to come up with possible fixes for whatever they may find. And as far as reopening, the governor says that some small sections may be open next week. But that might help get traffic moving to the airport, but the connector tunnel, where the accident happened, will almost surely take longer.

BLOCK: And just to be clear, these problems areas are all in the new construction, all part of the Big Dig?

Ms. SMITH: That's right.

BLOCK: Why did Mitt Romney take over this investigation, in the first place?

Ms. SMITH: Well, he'd been calling for a long time for the ouster of Matt Amorello, who heads that agency, that's been overseeing it. The governor pointed a long list of Big Dig troubles: the water leaks, the falling debris, the watered down cement that was allegedly used. Now this incident, he says, is proof, the governor says, that Amorello was in over his head.

But because the agency was an independent one, he couldn't just fire the guy, he had to go through this process of emergency legislation. And that's what he did. Because the governor explained it didn't make sense to have the head of the big dig basically investigating his own work, or inspecting his own work.

But I should note, there are some who are questioning conflicts that the governor might have himself in this role. You know he's angling to run for president. His lieutenant governor is running for governor. The state's attorney general, who's looking into possible criminal charges right now, is also running for governor. And even the Federal Highway Administration that's helping the investigation, right now, also is headed by a guy who used to be director of the Big Dig.

So there are some who say, if you really want this thing to have credibility, maybe the way to get it done is to give it to the National Transportation Safety Board that's totally disconnected, and only that would really take the politics and the finger pointing out of this.

BLOCK: Well with this tunnel close, Tovia, what's happening with traffic in Boston?

Ms. SMITH: Oh, it's awful. And you know, folks here have lived through years of construction and detours and delays, that have made them really, really cranky. Taxpayers have been cranky, as the project has gone from three billion to 15 billion. And just when the new tunnel finally opened - just in the past year or so - it seemed like the bitterness was just kind of giving way to a kind of - I want to call it - almost giddiness at first. When everybody realized just how fast they could get to work or how easy it was to get to the airport.

And now, here we are again. Here we are. These huge traffic tie-ups, people sincerely scared to drive the tunnels. People can only guess at what these repairs are going to cost. So it's not really just cranky anymore, a lot of folks around here are livid, really, really livid.

BLOCK: Okay. Tovia, thanks very much.

Ms. SMITH: Thanks, Melissa.

BLOCK: NPR's Tovia Smith in Boston.

Copyright © 2006 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.