Expert won't vouch for Boston's 'Big Dig'

/ Source: The Associated Press

The independent engineering specialist who led an investigation into leaks at the $14.6 billion Big Dig project says he can no longer vouch for the safety of its tunnels.

“I am now unable to express an opinion as to the safety of the I-93 portion of the Central Artery,” Jack Lemley wrote in the March 9 letter to the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority, a copy of which was obtained by The Boston Globe.

The project — formally called the Central Artery and Third Harbor Tunnel project — buried Interstate 93 underneath downtown Boston and connected the Massachusetts Turnpike to Logan International Airport.

Lemley told lawmakers in November that there was no public safety risk to people driving through the tunnels.

In the latest letter, he said new information has surfaced that more than 40 large sections of tunnel wall contain construction defects and that fireproofing material has been damaged by leaks.

He also wrote that project officials have blocked him from obtaining records and data related to the new problems. Lemley added that his change in position also was driven by the apparent lack of any formal plan by Big Dig officials to address the leak problems.

Matthew Amorello, chairman of the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority, which oversees the $14.6 billion project, had yet to see the letter, a spokesman told the Globe in Tuesday’s editions.

“We believe the tunnels are perfectly safe,” spokesman Doug Hanchett said. “If we ever had a reasonable inkling otherwise, we’d close the tunnels. Public safety is always our number one concern.”