Big Dig ceiling collapse

Big Dig ceiling collapse
Boston traffic snakes over a closed Ted Williams Tunnel entrance in Boston during rush hour July 11, 2006, a day after the collapse.

The Big Dig ceiling collapse occurred on July 10, 2006, when a concrete ceiling panel weighing 3 tons (2722 kg) and measuring 20 by 40 ft (6.1 by 12.2 m) fell in Boston's Fort Point Channel Tunnel. The panel fell on a car traveling on the two-lane ramp connecting northbound I-93 to eastbound I-90 in South Boston, killing a passenger and injuring the driver. The collapse caused a section of the tunnel to be closed for almost a full year.


Immediate aftermath and fallout

Calling the area a crime scene, Attorney General Tom Reilly issued subpoenas to those involved in the construction and testing of the tunnels. Governor Mitt Romney returned from a vacation in New Hampshire to view the condition of the tunnels.[1][2] The east ends of the westbound and eastbound connector tunnels were designed and constructed in the same manner. Neither end of tunnel was designed for a hanging ceiling system; in fact, the ends of the connector tunnels had been constructed much earlier than the remaining tunnel sections (which incorporated an embedded ceiling hanger connection in the design) to allow for the construction of the D Street bridge above. The collapse of the ceiling structure began with the simultaneous creep-type failure of several anchors embedded in epoxy in the tunnels roof slab. Each of the panel's intersecting connection points consist of several individual anchorages into the roof slab concrete. The failure of a group of anchors set off a chain reaction which caused other adjacent connection groups to creep then fail, sending 12 tons of concrete to the roadway below.

The Governor ordered the closure of connecting roads that lead into the Fort Point Channel Tunnel and several ramps to the westbound section from within the city. These closures caused dramatic overflow congestion throughout the city as motorists sought alternate routes to and from Logan International Airport and several other key arterials. Beyond the difficulties posed within the city, the Fort Point Channel Tunnel and Ted Williams Tunnel links the Massachusetts Turnpike and Interstate 93 to Logan, so this also blocked a key inbound link for airport travelers coming from outside the city, forcing them to seek alternate routes or follow poorly marked detours that wind through the city, often resulting in additional travel times of one hour or more.

The legislature approved the governor's plan to assume oversight of the investigation into the collapse, taking responsibility away from the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority, and additionally allocating $20 million for a "stem to stern" safety review of the Central Artery system. At the request of all the members of the Massachusetts congressional delegation, the National Transportation Safety Board dispatched a six-member civil engineering team to Boston to inspect the accident scene and determine whether a full-scale investigation was warranted.

Those safety inspections ultimately identified 242 potentially dangerous bolt fixtures that support the ceiling tiles in the Interstate 90 connector tunnel.[3] As problems throughout the tunnels were identified, various sections of roadway were closed and re-opened as deemed appropriate.[4] The most recent concerns to be aired include ceiling fans, weighing approximately three tons each, to circulate air throughout the tunnel system.[5]

The National Transportation Safety Board released a report on the one year anniversary of the disaster which attributed the major cause of the collapse to "epoxy creep".

On August 8, 2007, a Suffolk County Grand Jury indicted epoxy company Powers Fasteners, Inc., on one charge of involuntary manslaughter, with the maximum penalty in Massachusetts being a fine of one thousand dollars.[6]

Political fallout

On July 13, 2006, the leaders of the state legislature, Senate President Robert Travaglini and House Speaker Sal Dimasi, called upon Turnpike Authority chairman Matthew J. Amorello, who provided oversight of the project, to consider stepping down from his position and accepting a diminished role.[7] Governor Romney and Attorney General Reilly both called for the resignation of Amorello. This stance was supported in editorials in Boston's two major newspapers, the Boston Herald[8] and The Boston Globe.[9] On July 18, Amorello was presented with a formal list of charges that Romney intended to use to justify Amorello's removal.[10]

Amorello made an unsuccessful effort to ask the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court to postpone the removal hearing before Romney.[11] On July 27, 2006, after the Supreme Judicial Court rejected his request and shortly before the hearing was to have begun, Armorello announced his intention to resign as Chairman of the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority effective August 15, 2006.

Romney and Reilly have garnered criticism from the media for accepting campaign contributions from Big Dig contractors and for not taking more action prior to the fatal accident. Modern Continental was the contractor that built this section following a design by Gannett Fleming Inc.[12]


Numerous problems with this same system of bolts and epoxy in the Ted Williams Tunnel were revealed in a 1998 (Massachusetts) Office of the Inspector General report. Not only were the bolts too short, but the epoxy used to glue the bolts into the concrete was not up to standard.[13] The state Turnpike Authority (citing the existence of an ongoing criminal investigation into the tunnel ceiling collapse) and the Federal Highway Administration have refused requests[citation needed] to release documents relating to the work conducted along the Seaport connector, including:

  • Deficiency reports that would have shown problems flagged during initial work on the tunnel.
  • Construction change orders that would have shown costly repairs and contract revisions that occurred because of deficiencies.
  • Inspection reports and other documents that would show who would have knowledge of the workmanship and building material quality.

Likewise, just one year earlier, U.S. Representative Stephen Lynch had trouble obtaining records regarding the Big Dig tunnel leaks for the Congress' Committee on Government Oversight.[14]


On November 27, 2006, departing Attorney General Tom Reilly announced that the state would launch a civil suit over the collapse of the ceiling in the Ted Williams Tunnel. The Commonwealth will be seeking over $150 million from project manager Bechtel/Parsons Brinckerhoff, builder Modern Continental Construction Co. and the manufacturer of the epoxy used to hold the ceiling bolts.[15]

Attorney General Martha Coakley on March 1, 2007 named Paul Ware from Goodwin Procter, a Boston law firm to lead the criminal investigation into whether there is criminal culpability in the Big Dig tunnel collapse. Paul Ware will be appointed as a special assistant attorney general.[16]

On December 24, 2007, the family of Milena Del Valle (who was killed in the collapse) and Angel Del Valle (who was injured) announced that they had reached a settlement with Powers Fasteners, in which they would be paid $6 million.[17] The Del Valle family stated, "We are grateful that the Powers family company has done the right thing." Powers denied responsibility, but said that the settlement would "allow the healing process to begin." Powers also stated "We also hope that this will lead others who, unlike Powers, truly were responsible for the accident, to do the same." The Del Valle family still has 14 lawsuits pending against other defendants.[18]

See also


  1. ^ Lindsay, Jay (2006-07-11). "Reilly: Big Dig collapse is crime scene". Retrieved 2006-07-18. [dead link]
  2. ^ "Mitt’s MIA as bigs dig into tunnel tragedy"[1], "The Boston Herald"
  3. ^ Mishra, Raja; Sean P. Murphy (2006-07-14). "Many more flaws detected; Romney to take over probe; Loose ceiling fixtures number in hundreds". The Boston Globe. Retrieved 2006-07-18. 
  4. ^ "Romney Shuts Down Part Of Ted Williams Tunnel". WBZ-TV CBS 4. 2006-07-20. Retrieved 2006-07-20. [dead link]
  5. ^ Mishra, Raja (2006-07-26). "Stability of ramps' massive fans in question". Boston Globe. Retrieved 2006-07-26. 
  6. ^ Ross, Casey (2007-08-08). "Epoxy company hit with Big Dig indictment". Boston Herald. Retrieved 2007-08-08. 
  7. ^ Helman, Scott; Andrea Estes and Andrew Ryan (2006-07-13). "Legislative leaders tell Amorello to take lesser role". The Boston Globe. Retrieved 2006-07-18. 
  8. ^ Boston Herald editorial staff (2006-07-12). "Tunnel tragedy was no accident". Boston Herald. Retrieved 2006-07-18. [dead link]
  9. ^ Boston Globe editorial staff (2006-07-12). "Time to go". Boston Globe. Retrieved 2006-07-20. 
  10. ^ Boston Globe (2006-07-25). "'In violation of your duty:' Excerpts from Governor Mitt Romney's July 17 letter to Matthew J. Amorello, chairman of the Turnpike Authority". Boston Globe. p. B5. Retrieved 2006-07-25. 
  11. ^ Estes, Andrea (2006-07-25). "Amorello failed at Big Dig, letter says". Boston Globe. p. B1+. Retrieved 2006-07-25. 
  12. ^ Ross, Casey (2006-07-19). "Dig company pulls kudos from Web site". The Boston Herald. Retrieved 2006-07-19. [dead link]
  13. ^ Murphy, Sean P.; Scott Allen (2006-07-12). "Workmanship and design of tunnel are called into question". The Boston Globe. Retrieved 2006-07-18. 
  14. ^ Wedge, Dave; Casey Ross (2006-07-13). "From Big Dig officials: Info under wraps". The Boston Herald. Retrieved 2006-07-18. [dead link]
  15. ^ Mass. to sue Big Dig firms over tunnel accident, Reuters, 2006-11-27
  16. ^ "Coakley tabs private attorney to lead Big Dig criminal probe". Associated Press. March 1, 2007. Retrieved 2007-08-21. "The man chosen to lead the criminal investigation into last summer's deadly Big Dig tunnel ceiling collapse was a prosecutor in the Iran-Contra affair and more recently in the disciplinary hearing against former Superior Court Judge Maria Lopez." 
  17. ^ Cramer, Maria (2006-08-30). "Family of Big Dig victim speak about Lawsuit". The Boston Globe. Retrieved 2006-08-30. 
  18. ^ Woolhouse, Megan (2007-12-24). "Settlement reached in Big Dig death". Boston Globe. Retrieved 2007-12-25. 

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