Gov. Mitt Romney said Monday that tests show more than 1,100 bolt assemblies that used epoxy and more than 300 other areas in a Big Dig connector tunnel where the ceiling collapsed are unreliable.
Romney, speaking at a Statehouse news conference where he drew charts and diagrams of the trouble spots, said all will have to be reinforced.
“In grabbing ahold of these bolts and pulling on them with excess force, they’re letting go ... at lower pressures than they were designed to handle,” Romney said.
“That suggests that this epoxy system is not working ... and for that reason we can’t count on it,” he said.
Last week, days after 12 tons of ceiling panels came loose and fell on a car, crushing a passenger, the governor announced that inspections had found at least 242 points where bolts were separating from the tunnel roof.
Two Big Dig tunnels have since been closed and Romney has not yet cleared the way for them to reopen.
The $14.6 billion Big Dig — the most expensive highway project in U.S. history — buried a highway network that used to slice through the city, replacing it with a series of tunnels.
The project also has also been plagued by leaks, falling debris, cost overruns, delays and problems linked to faulty construction.
AG may file criminal charges
Attorney General Tom Reilly, who is considering filing involuntary manslaughter charges in the ceiling collapse, said Monday that investigators had discovered documents showing there was a “substantial dispute” over whether the design of the tunnel was adequate to hold the weight of the three-ton ceiling panels.
Reilly, who refused to give specifics, said he did not know how the dispute was resolved. He said the tunnel designer, the contractor and the company overseeing the Big Dig project were involved but would not say who raised the questions.
“There was a substantial dispute whether the design was adequate to hold the weight expected,” Reilly said.
Commuters on Monday endured increased traffic hassles with the closing of a second tunnel ramp connecting two interstates. It was closed Sunday after testing showed dozens of problems with the bolts holding up the ceiling. That ramp had been used as part of a detour around the accident scene.
Romney said engineers successfully tested a system to reinforce the bolts. With crews working around the clock, at least one portion of the closed areas could reopen by late in the weekend, he said.
Kennedy, Kerry weigh in
Romney met earlier in the day with congressional, state and city leaders to outline his plan for traffic and to ensure the safe reopening of the tunnels. After the meeting, Sens. John Kerry and Edward M. Kennedy endorsed the governor’s plans.
Kennedy said congressional committees are making plans to hold hearings into the tunnel collapse and the Big Dig project.
“We want to make sure the issue of safety is front and center,” Kennedy said.
Kerry said the traffic jams resulting from the closures demonstrate the value of the project.
"One thing is for certain: The congestion that we're seeing and the incredible backup really is a statement to the importance of this project and to the difference it has made to the lives of people in this community," Kerry said.
Bolts, glue raise concerns
State and federal investigators have focused their attention on the bolts and epoxy glue used to hold the drop-ceiling system in place in the tunnels. Each of the concrete slabs suspended above the roadway weighs three tons.
The National Transportation Safety Board, the Federal Highway Administration and the Massachusetts Highway Department conducted pull tests Monday of selected bolts in the tunnel where the panels fell to determine the characteristics of the epoxy used.
Pull tests are pending on bolts in the Ted Williams Tunnel, which remains open and has a different ceiling design that used lighter panels.
Although it's been considered an engineering marvel, the most expensive highway project in U.S. history also has also been plagued by leaks, falling debris, cost overruns, delays and problems linked to faulty construction.