Wednesday, July 12, 2006

More of the Same

Late Monday night, the inevitable finally happened: The Big Dig killed someone. The victim was 38-year-old Milena Del Valle, a mother of three who regularly attended Sunday services at the Hispanic Community Church of Boston. Milena and her husband were driving through the I-90 connector at 10:45 PM when 12 tons of concrete ceiling panels crashed down onto their car, killing her and injuring her husband.

I drove through the tunnel 14 hours earlier. It's the primary route to Logan Airport; and beginning around 6:00 AM, the tunnel remains heavily trafficked through the late evening rush hour. If the accident had happened at almost any other time of day, there's no doubt that more people would have been killed.

Early reports indicate the failure was caused by faulty installation of ceiling bolts and incorrectly mixed epoxy, both of which had been identified as problems in a 1998 report issued by the Office of the Inspector General. In layman's terms: If you want to suspend 3-ton concrete panels above a major highway, you'd better secure them properly. That didn't happen; and as a result, someone was killed.

When the story broke yesterday, the Turnpike Authority said the tunnel would re-open at noon today. Now the tunnel has been "closed indefinitely" — making a stupid, tragic situation even more stupid and frustrating.

The Big Dig is neither more safe or less safe today than it was two weeks ago. The Globe published some nonsense today about Greater Boston residents being shocked by the incident, that "a roadway nearly everyone uses and that they had been repeatedly assured was safe could now kill them." That's bullshit. We've heard steady reports for the last five years from experts in every relevant field attesting that the Big Dig reflects shoddy workmanship with a dangerous result. No one is surprised that someone has been killed. It was inevitable.

The tunnel isn't closed because it's more dangerous today, or even because we have a clearer understanding of its danger. It's being kept closed because, if it were re-opened and another accident killed someone tomorrow, the political fallout would explode exponentially. The tunnel is closed purely for public relations reasons — which doesn't help the Big Dig fiasco, it simply continues the trend of ignoring real problems and eschewing real solutions in favor of cosmetic political tactics.


At July 13, 2006 3:27 AM, Blogger Goodbye. You'll see me again, but you won't know it. said...

My grandfather worked for one of the firms responsible for drafting much of the Central Artery Tunnel. He would come home furious over the mismanagement of the project. He openly criticized his managers and management. He was never "let go" because he was phenomenal at his job. They could not afford lose him and they knew it. They suffered his arrogance gladly on that basis.

That, and they knew that he was right.

He kept insisting that the moment it opened, the Central Artery Tunnel would both start falling apart and prove to be obsolete. He constantly expressed safety concerns to his employers. He predicted a constant and steady stream of indictments as a result of the deliberate and unwitting wrongs done in the design process alone. He was also aware of grievous wrong done by the contractors building the whole monstrosity.

He worked diligently anyway because he was hired to do this and his honor demanded that he rise to the occasion. It was his duty to wrest whatever adequacy he could his own frustrated efforts. Cancer claimed his life before he could see the project completed, let alone finish his portion of the design work. I don't think he would regret being spared that indignity. I'm sure he would regret the opportunity to further expound his opinions to his bosses and condemn them whilst still trying to make the outcome less regrettable. He would have wanted to do what good he could -- of that I am certain.

I am proud of the work he did. I am proud of the courageous stand he took out of concern for the greater good and for dignity's sake. He took a risk in openly critiquing the project he was obligated to work on. I am resentful that his effort was so wasted and his words so lightly disregarded.

As proved to be nearly always the case, his professional judgement was entirely correct. I'm sure he would be disappointed to be right on that one occasion.


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