Blueprint for disaster

Letters to the Boston editor: September 7, 2007
By BOSTON PHOENIX LETTERS  |  September 5, 2007

It figures that Attorney General Martha Coakley would scapegoat an epoxy manufacturer for the Big Dig disaster. Going after a small company should prove to be the easiest way to win a case.

Coakley is understandably reluctant to take on the mega firms — including Bechtel/Parsons Brinckerhoff, who got the big bucks to design the infamous collapsible tunnel — given that they have pricey legal connections. But what a design those guys came up with! Take 4500-pound steel/concrete panels, bolt them straight into the overhead ceiling, slather on some glue, and call it good.

Gravity? Who cares? Well, the Romans did. They built stone arches 2000 years ago and many still stand. A remarkable work of engineering, the arch — all the stones try to fall into the same space at the same time and jam against one another; the load is transferred down the walls to the ground. In contrast, the Big Dig tunnel panels constantly strained against gravity; the design was a series of failure points: the bolt heads, the threads, the tensile strength of the bolts themselves, the concrete aggregate the bolt holes were drilled into. There were no fail-safes, no vertical beams supporting the felled panels, just bolts and glue. A weekend handyman wouldn’t try to get away with something that sloppy.

Perhaps we live in an era in which we accept public-works projects according to the dictum of the Wall Street Journal and its corporate investment allies — cut staff, cut costs, cut corners, take the money and run. Structural integrity? Show us the money in that. We can no longer build lasting works, not because they cost too much, but because there is not enough quick profit.

It is, or at one time was, standard engineering to assure that the failure of one, two, or even a handful of components out of thousands would not have a catastrophic consequence.

In fact, it is a surprise the panels stayed in place as long as they did. Since many more panels are still in place, one might conclude that some damn good glue, aggregate, and bolts were required to withstand the constant pressure of an inept overall design.

Lawrence Davey

Courting justice
TV broadcaster Dan Rea and US District Court Judge Nancy Gertner deserve kudos for their professional ethics and zealous pursuit of justice in this case. It is a rare triumph in an all too often corrupt legal system. Having been falsely arrested once and falsely imprisoned twice in Massachusetts while those responsible for investigating criminal complaints used their offices to cover up the crime instead of investigating it, I am of the mind that this is a more common result of our state’s system. Accountability for professional malfeasance and nonfeasance in Massachusetts is so rare that it never dissuades. Lack of accountability creates a miasma of corruption inimical to the pursuit of justice in Massachusetts.

John Krogstad

Grass backwards
It’s not the City Hall building, per se, that outrages most people, as you suggest. It’s that grim, endless “plaza.” How hard would it be simply to pull up all of those hideous bricks and steps, dump a few tons of fresh dirt in their place, and plant some grass?

Rich Feinberg
West Roxbury

Twin complaints
As a Minnesotan who’s lived in the Boston area for a number of years, I’ve got two things to say.

Regarding Randy Moss: if Bill Belichick can make him more of a team player and less of a distraction, more power to him. We Vikings fans were not saddened to see him leave.

Regarding Kevin Garnett: you goddamned sons of bitches. It’s obvious Kevin McHale never stopped working for the Celtics.

Jeff Langstraat

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