Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Big Dig Proves it's Worth its Weight in Gold

Literally... When four approximately 3-ton slab sections fell on a single vehicle traveling through the MassPike extension to Rt. 1A/Callahan Tunnel, killing a passenger-side woman and injuring her husband, the driver; no other persons were in the vehicle. It's the kind of tragedy that, like everything else that is Boston, I hate to say, has to happen in order for change to happen.
The Big Dig has long been the butt of a joke of many Bostonians and Greater Bostonians, including myself, who have long questioned both the costs of construction, which have put rising gas prices to shame, and the necessity of it over badly needed, and severely underfunded, public transportation improvements and roadway and bridge maintenance across the state. This recent incident just tips the scale of absurdity even more. For the project, worth over $14.6 B and still growing with current upgrades and improvements, is already under scrutiny for leaking in the Ted Williams tunnel and numerous other potentially hazardous construction violations just recently starting to surface. And with accountability for these mishaps equally as caught up in the local courts as the major cost overruns themselves, we, the local taxpayers stand to lose even more of out transportation budget with this new tragedy and subsequent investigation. For, even if the construction companies are found totally liable for damages--as opposed to partially liable, with some blame falling on Mass. Turnpike Authority for poor oversight, rushing the project and not providing realistic building parameters--the taxpayers still get dinged, pun intended, in legal fees. Sound familiar from a local standpoint? In 2002, all Acela Express trainsets were pulled out of duty because of faulty braking mechanisms which the trainsets' major manufacturer, the Canadian rail transit manufacturing giant Bombardier, blamed on unrealistic parameters of converting the trainsets to run on US rails, despite the fact that even though we may have a few more twists and turns in our antiquated system, the 4' 8.5" gauge is still the same. Shortly after that, even closer to home, all MBTA Type 8 Green Line cars were pulled by the T, which got into an argument with Italian manufacturer Breda over faulty traction and braking mechanisms; Breda also blamed unrealistic parameters with regard to "conversion."
So, since Acela Express trains are running again and the Type 8's are again slinking up and down every line except the E line which apparently can only handle the Type 7's, don't expect there to be much delay in reopening the "broken" tunnel, although early speculation puts the wait time between "tomorrow" and "months from now." I mean, these are mostly American companies who've worked on the Big Dig so they can't really use the "because we need to convert to US units" excuse anyway.
But let me take a step back to give my deepest sympathy to Milena DelValle--may she rest in piece--her husband, Angel, probably still dazed and confused by all this, and their friends and family, probably equally as shaken up. Who wouldn't be?


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