Art Exhibit

My friend Peter Vanderwarker’s works are included in the Industrial Strength exhibit showing through April 13 at the Addison Gallery of American Art, Phillips Academy, Andover. (Peter shot the photo postcards in my office window.) The exhibit is reviewed in today’s Boston Globe (“No one documented the Big Dig more scrupulously or vividly than Peter Vanderwarker, and the Addison has nearly two dozen of those photographs on display.”) The exhibit is worth figuring out how to get to Andover.

NTSB Report on Big Dig Collapse

Last summer’s death of Milena del Valle under 26 tons of concrete that fell from the ceiling of a Big Dig tunnel raises a complex web of potential liability. I’ve posted about this over the past year as investigators pore through a mountain of evidence to fix the cause of the ceiling’s collapse. See Big Dig, Big Liability, Massachusetts Sues for Big Dig Negligence, and Big Dig Litigation Update. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) recently identified use of the incorrect epoxy as the culprit. In the words of an NTSB member “[i]t’s kind of ironic in a $14 billion project . . . About $1.50 per anchor is what ended up bringing the ceiling down.”

According to the NTSB this is what happened. Bechtel/Parsons Brinkerhoff, which oversaw all Big Dig construction, reviewed the epoxy specifications prepared by Gannet Fleming, one of six subcontractors and suppliers who worked on the ceiling. The NTSB says that Bechtel/Parsons did not consider the fast-set epoxy’s long-term strength. The epoxy’s supplier, Powers Fasteners, stated in project documentation–“in the fine print”–that fast-set epoxy was not for long term use but apparently no one acted on this language. A Powers spokeswoman says that Powers supplied its standard-set epoxy, an order valued at $1,287, and assumed it was used. Big Dig contractors were aware that the bolts supporting the massive concrete ceiling panels were slipping and devised theories as to the cause, but the nature of the epoxy securing the bolts in their holes was not among them. Despite knowledge that these bolts were loosening the project’s overseers and the tunnel’s managers never instituted regular inspection of them. Reporting on the NTSB’s findings The Boston Globe stated “[t]here were no regular inspections in the more than three and a half years between the completion of the tunnel and the collapse . . . But after the disaster, investigators found that other ceiling panels were in imminent danger of falling.”

Expect more details over the coming months as other investigations continue, including one by Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley to determine whether to file criminal charges in connection with del Valle’s death.

Big Dig Litigation Update

I’ve written a couple of times (here and here) about the possibility of litigation arising from last July’s collapse of a portion of the ceiling of the Ted Williams Tunnel. To date the litigation includes a civil suit for negligence filed by the family of Milena del Valle, who was killed in the collapse, and the specter of criminal charges for negligent homicide and fraud. The Boston Globe reported recently that the legal actions involve–so far–over “100 attorneys, 17 companies, and dozens of engineers and workers.” The various defendants have filed 172 cross-claims against each other seeking indemnification for any civil damages. A Globe graphic captures these cross-claims in a Death Star, a colorful spider’s web of liability. What it likely means is years of courtroom maneuvering, tens of millions of dollars in legal fees, the sacrifice of thousands of trees, and a long wait for answers on how this stupendously expensive project could go so wrong.

Massachusetts Sues for Big Dig Negligence

On July 10 part of the ceiling of the tunnel connecting I-90 and Logan Airport collapsed and killed Milena del Valle, who was driving beneath. The ceiling collapse and del Valle’s death caused the tunnel to be closed for months for repairs and provoked furious finger-pointing among state officials and the Big Dig’s managers, contractors, and designers. Two months ago a grand jury convened to investigate possible criminal charges, something I wrote about in Big Dig, Big Liability? Nothing has come yet from the grand jury.

The state is not resting, however. The Boston Globe reported this morning that outgoing Attorney General Tom Reilly will file a lawsuit today against Bechtel/Parsons Brinckerhoff, the joint-venture manager of the Big Dig, Bechtel Corp. and Parsons, Brinckerhoff individually, Modern Continental Construction Co. and Gannett Fleming, the builder and designer, respectively, of the I-90 connector tunnel ceiling, and Sika Corp., Powers Fasteners, and Newman, Renner, Colony Inc., the manufacturer, wholesaler, and distributor, respectively, of the epoxy used to fasten the ceiling’s connector bolts. The state seeks undetermined damages for gross negligence, negligence, and breach of contract. Central to the state’s claim are the same allegations noted in the earlier post: that (1) the ceiling was originally designed to require more anchor bolts, (2) managers modified the original design because they believed “a 2 bolt anchor plate would be sufficient” to support the multi-ton concrete panels, (3) managers tested the bolts’ strength using standards less rigorous than industry rules-of-thumb, (4) some bolts passed these tests but failed when subjected to their working loads, and (5) managers knew of such failures but didn’t either redesign the ceiling’s anchoring system or more carefully supervise its installation could establish the basis for criminal culpability. The named defendants represent every step in the ceiling’s progress from design through constructionexcept, it is interesting to note, for those involved in manufacture and distribution of the connector bolts.

Reilly is a lame-duck and leaving office soon, having run unsuccessfully for governor this fall. The Globe reported that Reilly filed the suit now, instead of handing it off to incoming attorney general Martha Coakley, in part to beat a six-year statute of limitations applicable to litigation for defective construction and in part to cap the work of staff assigned to investigate the claims. Reilly has reportedly briefed Coakley on the lawsuit.

Scott Allen & Sean P. Murphy, AG, alleging negligence, will sue in tunnel cave-in, The Boston Globe, 27-Nov-06, p. 1