Thursday, August 03, 2006

Thoughts on The Big Dig Disaster

As many of you may realize, I live in Massachusetts, where we have been facing the reality of The Big Dig for a very long time. For those of you who are not familiar with The Big Dig, it was the world's most expensive construction project (it may still be), and the plan was to submerge a raised highway that divided Boston, put in tunnels and connectors, etc. Given that Boston is one of the oldest cities in the United States, the traffic has greatly outgrown the layout of the city, and the bottlenecks through downtown can be quite bad.

So, for Bostonians, The Big Dig seemed like a great idea. The problem is, the cost has greatly exceeded the budget (See this 2003 article for some figures: and now we have been faced with serious safety issues as well. After the fatal accident in which a woman was killed when a concrete ceiling tile fell, residents have been affected by the closing of the connector tunnel to the airport. We have been told that other tunnels may be unsafe as a result of the epoxy used to glue the bolts in. We have learned that there had been warnings about these unsafe conditions that were not taken seriously enough.

Prior to this, a group was appointed to investigate cost overruns on the project and to evaluate how to go about recovering funds that were billed excessively, or incorrectly reported change orders. The problem is, the group that was doing this work was physically sharing space with Bechtel Parsons, the main construction company on the project. I saw it with my own eyes, because I interviewed for the job, and we had to whisper when discussing the cost recovery process. There was some noise from the legislature about establishing a separate group, but that never transpired.

The only solution is for the government to establish a truly independent tribunal of industry experts, government officials and private citizens who will not gain any benefit from their findings. The project should first be evaluated for safety. I drive through those areas frequently, and we need to be reassured that our highways and tunnels are safe.

Then, that same body should investigate the financial aspects of the project and really proceed with the cost recovery process. The Big Dig was not "all bad." I heard Larry Delmore give a speech about the Dispute Resolution Boards that were established to deal with problems as they arose, and the DRBs saved enormous sums by preventing problems from escalating and ending up in litigation. You can learn more about his foundation at

If some of you are surprised that I am posting about The Big Dig, you should know that I also practice contruction law, and therefore have an interest in public construction projects. I will still focus on home contractor-homeowner issues, but thought it would be interesting to have a discussion about this important topic.


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