Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Memo: Ceiling Panels Determined to Strike in Tunnel

The Boston Globe has now got a copy of a 1999 memo warning about the bolt-and-epoxy system that held the concrete ceiling panels in place in the I-90 connector tunnel. The memo, written by the on-site safety officer, expressed the concerns of the workers to officials at Modern Continental, the company overseeing that part of the project. The memo noted that the weight of the ceiling panels was "excessive" without additional reinforcement and warns that someone could end up killed. From the memo (emphasis added):

Should any innocent State Worker or member of the Public be seriously injured or even worse killed as a result, I feel that this would be something that would reflect Mentally and Emotionally upon me, and all who are trying to construct a quality Project.

I know my concerns should only be for those who work here but somehow I feel I need to pass on what everyone down here appears to be thinking.
The last line is what disturbs me the most. Despite the fact that workers on the site were skeptical of the design, nothing was done. This whole situation is revealed to be another one of those Big Dig open secrets that everyone knows but no one does anything about.

Author of the memo, John J. Keaveney, told the Globe that he started asking questions after he invited a third-grade class from Norwood to tour the Big Dig site. A little girl asked him if the bolts would hold up the concrete. He told them they would, but started thinking more critically about they design at that point.

If there ever is an independent investigation, I think that we should add this to their final recommendations: Every project from now on must justify all design decisions to a panel of third-graders. If any of them say "that's stupid," the project is off. Anything that you can't explain to a nine year old is probably too complicated to work anyway.