Friday, July 28, 2006

Strange Report on Big Dig Investigation

Apparently writing a logical article about the problems at the Big Dig is as difficult as assessing the problems with the tunnel’s construction. I just finished reading the AP’s report saying the feds will join the study. This administration’s track record in performing competent investigations leaves much to be desired. Between the White House’s internal investigations into their Hurricane Katrina response and their recent “root cause” analysis in the Middle East conflict, I have little faith in their ability to perform even the most basic assessment.

The article mentioned the feds would be looking at the impact of nearby construction on the safety of the Big Dig. This seemed odd as it could be seen as a passing of the buck. Rather than project design, material quality, or contractor performance as root causes of panel failure, the federal lens seems to be looking elsewhere.

Bolt failure has been identified as a factor in the ceiling panels falling. Early in the article it mentioned 1,300 bolts did not pass the required pull strength test resulting in the closing of the tunnel. Later it has Gov. Romney talking about 2 bolts that passed with flying colors.

The study to date involved examination of 40,000 documents some of which suggest concerns that the epoxy anchor bolt system could support the 3 ton concrete panels. So given the bit of information presented, why would the feds be looking at nearby construction?

Then I found the name of the company contracted to build the Big Dig. Becthel/Parsons Brinkerhoff performed the work. Bechtel is a private company that does huge amounts of government work. They highlight their new federal telecom system and their management of Los Alamos National Laboratory in their recent news. Their annual report brags of their Hurricane Katrina report. They claim credit for things I thought FEMA did, like assessing damage and disturbing trailers. Bechtel’s 2005 annual report mentions the completion of the Big Dig.

Bechtel has a huge contract to rebuild Iraq. Their website says it contracted 75% of Iraqi reconstruction to local contractors. Recent federal assessments suggest the U.S. will miss most of its goals in rebuilding the Iraqi infrastructure.

Leading a successful 2005 for Bechtel was Bechtel National, its government business unit. Parsons Brinkerhoff also does work for FEMA. To their credit their website says this in regard to the Big Dig. “Determining the causes of this specific failure will require a thorough forensic analysis of design, methods, materials, procedures, and documentation.”

I don’t have confidence in the current administration to competently do what Parsons Brinkerhoff recommends. The Bush administration has shown with its past “investigations” its ability to protect itself and its friends. The strange news article made me wonder if that very thing could be happening again.

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