Image: Big Dig tunnel.
Elise Amendola  /  AP
Concrete barriers with fencing divide the newly re-opened Big Dig tunnel from areas still under repair in Boston, on Wednesday, after it the tunnel was opened to traffic.
updated 8/9/2006 7:29:30 AM ET 2006-08-09T11:29:30

Boston drivers could get some relief from downtown congestion Wednesday after the reopening of a Big Dig tunnel ramp that had been closed for repairs and inspections.

The ramp funnels drivers south of the city toward Logan International Airport through the eastbound Ted Williams Tunnel. The ramp was closed after tons of concrete panels fell from the ceiling in a nearby connector tunnel July 10, crushing a motorist.

“This makes a huge difference,” Gov. Mitt Romney said at a news conference Tuesday before the midnight reopening. “Both directions, eastbound and westbound, will now be able to have cargo trucks going in both directions, automobiles can go both directions.”

But Romney cautioned that plenty of work remains in other tunnels closed since the accident and problems continue to come up as engineers review the safety of the tunnel network.

The reopened ramp represents only about 10 percent of the total area of the Big Dig tunnels and ramps that have been shut down since the death of Milena Del Valle, 39. Other closed tunnel sections could take months to inspect and reopen, Romney said.

'Thorough inspections'
The Federal Highway Administration and Office of Inspector General at the U.S. Department of Transportation said the decision to reopen was the result of a thorough inspection of tunnel repairs and “the state’s implementation of an aggressive plan to monitor the reopened areas.”

Since the accident, authorities have focused on the bolt-and-epoxy system that failed to hold suspended ceiling panels in place where Del Valle was killed. Inspections have revealed slippage in dozens of other tunnel locations, and workers have been reinforcing potentially weak connections.

Romney said Tuesday that inspectors over the weekend also discovered that brackets used to connect the panels to the ceiling weren’t big enough, and workers had to replace 23 brackets.

The $14.6 billion Big Dig highway project buried a highway network that used to slice through the city, creating a series of tunnels to take traffic underground. Although it’s been billed an engineering marvel, the most expensive highway project in U.S. history has also been plagued by leaks, falling debris, delays and other problems linked to faulty construction.

After the July 10 accident, Romney seized control of inspections, promising a “stem to stern” safety audit. He also forced out the head of the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority, which oversees the Big Dig.

State and federal criminal investigations are also under way to determine if construction failures resulted from criminal negligence.

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