It took nothing short of death to awaken authorities to the grotesque — and probably criminal — endangerment of the public’s safety throughout the construction of the Big Dig.
TUNNEL OF DOOM: We were all canaries sent into a $14.6 billion coal mine
The unnecessary death of Milena Del Valle, killed by 12,000 pounds of falling concrete inside the I-90 connector tunnel, has finally sent authorities rushing to initiate investigations. The discoveries of faultily installed support mechanisms throughout the tunnels has made it chillingly clear that this was a disaster waiting to happen — we were all canaries sent into a $14.6 billion coal mine.
That only one person died — that the concrete gave way late on a Monday night instead of during rush hour five hours earlier — was pure luck for everyone, save one family from Jamaica Plain. And that is no comfort. Every day, Americans take for granted the safety of their government-built structures, be they roads, tunnels, bridges, dams, schools, or public buildings. As in New Orleans when the levies gave way, the public’s trust came crashing down in Boston with those immense slabs of concrete.
The finger-pointing among state agencies has been fast and furious. But conflicts of interest have tainted every office involved, making it patently obvious that no Massachusetts pol or official can properly investigate this crime. That is why the Phoenix is calling for the federal government to create an independent investigative body, in the style of the 9-11 Commission, to find out why this happened, where else it has happened, who is culpable, and how to prevent it in the future.
The federal government has proper authority here, since it paid for the bulk of the Big Dig and bears responsibility for interstate highways. But more importantly, the integrity of publicly overseen construction projects is a national issue — from the new Oakland/San Francisco Bay Bridge set to open next year, to the Mississippi River bridge, just starting construction.
Nobody in Massachusetts should be considered sufficiently free from conflicts of interest to conduct a proper investigation — especially those people who are most eager to take charge of one. That includes Matt Amorello, who may not be responsible for causing the problems but is in way over his head at the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority (MTA), as well as Attorney General Tom Reilly and US Attorney Michael Sullivan, who may have been the last two people in Massachusetts to suspect criminal wrongdoing on the Big Dig project. Federal authorities that once shunned oversight responsibilities are also trying to lead investigations, most notably the Federal Highway Agency (FHWA) of the US Department of Transportation, which is now launching an investigation after looking the other way for the past 15 years.