A few days after a 110-pound light fixture crashed from the ceiling of the Tip O’Neill tunnel onto one of the busiest roads in Boston, a highway crew made an alarming discovery: nine other lights in the sprawling Big Dig tunnels were hanging from supports so corroded that they could fail at any time, too.If we had a real Attorney General there would already be a criminal investigation into this, but our man Eric Holder is too busy covering up his role in Fast and Furious to even notice.
The Big Dig already had a tragic experience with dangerous falling objects. A tunnel ceiling panel had collapsed in 2006, killing a woman a few hundred yards from where the nine corroded fixtures were discovered on Feb. 16. State engineers had no way of knowing how many more of the 25,000 lights in the Big Dig tunnels had become unstable - and plenty of reason to fear that corrosion was widespread after years of saltwater leaking into the tunnels.
But the engineers in charge kept quiet. They filed no written report. They didn’t brief their boss. And when they asked federal regulators for money to fix a corrosion problem that “could’’ lead to falling light fixtures, they didn’t disclose that one had already fallen.
Internal e-mails and Transportation Department reports obtained by the Globe show that last winter’s light fixture collapse presented a more hazardous situation than Secretary Jeffrey B. Mullan disclosed to the public, and one that could add $200 million to the already-gargantuan price of the Big Dig.But hey, no bog deal, right? After all, this mess cost us billions in overruns and was done in half-assed fashion. But it was a blue state payoff to unions, so who are we to complain? They meant well.
State records also show that his agency’s attempt to solve the problem was both more secretive and sluggish than he admitted. Engineers, led by Mullan’s close associate Helmut Ernst, didn’t even send the fallen fixture to a lab for analysis until March 16, instead leaving the crucial piece of evidence in a South Boston maintenance facility along with mounds of road debris.
“I have to ask what we have been doing for six weeks. No testing yet?’’ lamented Mullan in an e-mail hours before a March 16 press conference where he belatedly told the public about the light fixture hazard in the tunnels.
Despite these private doubts, Mullan told reporters he and his staff had “spent quite some time’’ investigating the incident and that he was disclosing it after getting “a better idea of exactly what we were dealing with.’’ He said they had deliberately kept the incident quiet to avoid panic while they worked.
The light fixture fiasco underscores a culture of secrecy among the engineers who maintain the $22 billion Big Dig, one of the world’s most costly - and problem-plagued - highway projects. After years of scandals, bad press, and lawsuits alleging shoddy work, engineers freely admit they don’t like to write things down, prompting one transportation consultant to compare the atmosphere to President Nixon’s White House.Again, where are the feds in this case? Could you imagine such a costly project in a red state becoming one of the most massive boondoggles in history and nobody being held accountable?
The consultant, C. David Taugher, wrote in a March internal report, “How deep does the culture go where nobody says anything, even when they know they should?’’
Talk about a culture of corruption.