There are few places you can go in the city of Boston where, if you sit still long enough, you will not hear the conversations around you veer toward the Big Dig project. The source of aggravation and consternation in the city for many years, now, the Big Dig is a favorite topic for Boston residents looking to vent about something. It provides a nearly endless supply of angst to commuters attempting to navigate an already tangled highway system, and has been clogging traffic and prompting detours since the work was begun in 1991. A fifteen year traffic jam can create a lot of anger.
On July 10, 2006, several tons of concrete fell from the ceiling of one of the Boston city tunnels. The massive slab landed on a traveling car, crushing a mother of three to death. Milena Del Valle was riding in the passenger seat of the vehicle driven by her husband when the construction accident occurred. He attempted vainly to pull her from the car, not realizing that she had been killed instantly.
The tragedy has sparked an odd mix of shock and resignation in Boston. Interchangeably, exclamations of “how could this happen?” and “I knew it, I just knew it,” can be heard throughout the city. Newscasters and drive-time DJs have explosive new material for their Big Dig watching, and Boston politicians are doing some serious dancing.
The Big Dig project has been troubled from it’s inception. Currently tallied at over $14 billion, the Boston highway reconstrucion project is many billions of dollars over budget, a fact that has Boston residents speculating and fuming about the state of the city’s notorious politics. City residents have already lived through several bridge and tunnel toll hikes, a great expense to commuters, many of who pay up to ten dollars per day if their route is unfortunate enough. They have seen more and more of their federal and state tax dollars spent on the project, while regular reports of corruption, corporate bonuses, and incentives were bandied about. And just as the project was “completed,” the residents of Boston were informed that there were so many leaks in the tunnels that over 1 million gallons of water from the overhead Boston Harbor had already flowed into the highway network. As a quick fix, the fire evacuation egresses were blocked.
Better to burn than drown, the Big Dig decreed.
Repairs are expected to cost another several billion dollars. Nationally, the Big Dig has been nicknamed “the Boston Boondoggle.”
But the tragedy of the death of Milena Del Valle has changed the temperament of the complaint against the Big Dig in the city of Boston. Long simmering anger has turned to outrage. The political finger pointing started within hours of the tragedy and, as can be expected when public blame is called for, the tiers of responsibility for the collapse shift hourly, depending on which government official has had the last word. District Attorney Tom Reilly is pursuing criminal investigation, and the site of the accident is currently considered a “crime scene.”
Here is what we know:
· A woman is dead.
· Inspection of the bolts holding the portion of the Big Dig ceiling that fell on the car carrying Milena Del Valle were found to be shoddy.
· Further inspection has, at the time of this writing, discovered over 1,400 similar bolts to be sub-standard, with more slabs of concrete ceiling found to have shifted dangerously down away from their secured location.
· Over 1,100 Big Dig bolt assemblies have been discovered to have been affixed to their locales with epoxy.
· Problems with the bolt assemblies were originally discovered upon inspection several years ago, with no correction or follow up performed to address the problem or ensure resolution.
Speculation about the Big Dig and the assigning of blame for the tragedy is first on the list of topics angering Boston residents these days. Following closely behind it is the catastrophic effect the tragedy has had on the already chaotic Boston traffic conditions. Tunnel closures and lane changes have nearly crippled parts of the city. Traffic in and out of the city has slowed to a crawl, several routes have been closed or changed, causing a spider-web like effect on all surrounding roads and highways as residents search for alternate routes to their destination. Transportation and delivery services have changed areas of coverage and delivery times. Local business have experienced losses of revenue. Tourism has been affected by the closure of the tunnel connecting Logan Airport to the city of Boston.
The Big Dig as been a sore subject in Boston for many, many years. The tragic death and resulting traffic conditions aside, some wonder whether the incident may finally shed enough light on the political climate of the city, a city that once saw its mayor reelected from prison, to prompt reform of the inside dealings and “wink wink” contracts the city is famous for. Boston residents may not want to hold their breath.