Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Subject: The Boston Big Dig: Parsons Brinckerhoff's Big Dig into our pockets for high-speed rail

It's amazing how many news articles you can find which, at first blush, appear to have nothing to do with High-Speed Rail, unless you lift the surface and peer underneath.  Here's a good one.  The Boston Big Dig  (Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Big_Dig ) was budgeted at around $2 to 3 billion before construction. The final costs?  $22 billion.  "A billion here, a billion there, and pretty soon you're talking real money." (Everett Dirksen)

And who, you may be asking was the perpetrator of this financial disaster?  I'm glad you asked.  It was Parsons Brinckerhoff.

Wait, you may have heard about Parsons Brinckerhoff recently in conjunction with California's High-Speed Rail Project.  Indeed, they are the lead contractor.

So, what do you suppose we are in store for with this business-as-usual global corporation based in the UK, where all their profits flow?  I mean here in California where the current cost projection for the train is now in the high sixties (billion dollars that is) and I'm just guessing maybe twice as much, since no shovels have even hit the dirt yet.

The Boston Big Dig should have been an object lesson for our political HSR promoters in California.  However, their croneyism with PB had advanced too far.  Though not in fact, it was, to all intents and purposes, a sole-source contract.

We read here about sub-standard work.  (Poor materials; inexperienced labor; insufficient labor, lack of inspections and quality control.) That, typically, is the result of expenditure slashing even as the costs go up and disappear into the calculating machine in the sky.

The CEO of the rail authority, Roelof Van Ark, talks about "value engineering." I wonder if such budget slashing is what he has in mind.

Can this financial disaster happen in California?  What makes you think that it won't?


State tossing millions at ongoing Dig leak problems
By Hillary Chabot  |   
Tuesday, May 31, 2011  |  
http://www.bostonherald.com  |  Local Coverage

State transportation workers are struggling to plug Big Dig tunnel leaks that gush as much as 1.4 million gallons of water a month, driving up repair costs in the notorious money pit known as the Central Artery by millions of dollars each year.

Despite what acting highway administrator Frank DePaola of the Massachusetts Department of Transportation called a “vigilant” ongoing effort, the persistent leaks are at least partially to blame for the crumbling fireproofing, corroded lighting and concrete falling from tunnel walls and ceilings that have plagued the Central Artery’s tunnels, according to inspection reports.

“It’s no secret that we still have water saturating the tunnels,” said DePaola, who said state officials corrected a series of critical issues raised in reports almost immediately. “Water is an issue that everyone with underground tunnels has to deal with. .?.?. We manage the water and we make sure it doesn’t cause immediate threats.”

Leaks have repeatedly been an issue over the past decade, with whistle-blowers and internal memos revealing concerns about shoddy material, while Big Dig managers made repairs and insisted the tunnels were safe. One federal engineering report endorsed a Central Artery prediction that all leaks would be sealed by September 2005.

The state has been spending $12 million a year to patch up the leaks for the past several years and doled out $13 million over the past three years to replace fireproofing in the tunnels — much of which has been lost due to leaks, according to transportation officials and inspection reports. Last year’s total for leaks and fireproofing topped $16 million.

Officials pay for the pricey upkeep out of the $458 million Central Artery trust fund created after contractors who built the $15 billion system — originally projected at less than $3 billion — settled criminal and civil charges after a Jamaica Plain woman was crushed to death by a falling ceiling panel. At the current rate of repairs, that fund could be tapped out in less than 30 years, while the tunnels were meant to last 100 years.

“The cost of maintaining this will be horrific,” said Jack Lemley, an engineer and former Big Dig consultant who “wasn’t a bit surprised” by the escalating cost of the leaks.

Lemley said that underground structures are supposed to be as watertight as possible, and the Big Dig construction work is “substandard.”

“The leakage will over time wind up corroding all of the steel fixtures .?.?. lights falling off, fire protection damage, all that will continue on,” Lemley said.

The Big Dig tunnels have been plagued with fireproofing and light fixtures plunging onto the heavily trafficked roadways this year. A 110-pound light crashed onto the road of the Thomas P. O’Neill Jr. Tunnel in February, while a 2-by-2-foot section of fireproofing dropped from the I-90 tunnel in late April.

Lemley said the fund isn’t enough, meaning taxpayers will likely pick up the tab for the leaks.

“I calculated the maintenance costs, and that fund is about $200 million short,” Lemley said.

The inspection reports, all completed in the past year, detailed leak-related problems that include:

• A heavily corroded and rusted electricity box hanging by only a few wires over the I-93 southbound highway under Dewey Square. Inspectors quickly secured the box on April 12 last year, writing, “these abandoned electrical boxes above the roadway should either be properly secured .?.?. or removed.”

• An April 5, 2010, inspection found a light in the I-93 southbound exit ramp to Purchase Street covered with “a heavy buildup of salt encrustation” due to a leak directly above it. Stalactites from dripping water were found on another light nearby.

• A July 7, 2010, inspection flagged a “hollow sounding” slab of concrete on the roof, which readily crumbled away using hand tools, as a “critical hazard deficiency” that needed to be repaired immediately.