Boston tunnels are closed indefinitely

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Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has reopened the Ted Williams Tunnel eastbound, which connects Boston to Logan International Airport, to bus traffic only. The tunnel was closed July 20, 10 days after 12 tons of cement ceiling panels fell on a car in the nearby Interstate 90 connector tunnel, killing a woman. The fear is that the bolts in the ceiling won’t hold.

The I-90 connector tunnel is closed, too, causing massive traffic jams around Boston. There is no immediate timetable for when the Big Dig tunnels will reopen completely, according to a spokesman for the governor’s office. For a map of alternate routes to Logan, East Boston and the South Boston waterfront, go to www.masspike.com.

After the July 10 accident, engineers conducted “pull tests” on the ceiling panels in the connector tunnel, said Ryan Williams, a spokesman for the governor’s office. “The results indicate that there has been a system failure of the epoxy adhesive in the I-90 connector tunnel,” Williams said. Ramps A and D also were closed for safety concerns, he said.

Crews already have removed some of the ceiling panels at the end of the I-90 connector. New bolts will be installed to supplement the existing epoxy system and provide additional support to the remaining panels, Williams said. An initial inspection of the Ted Williams Tunnel by the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority declared it safe for use, but the governor’s team, including Secretary of Transportation John Cogliano, decided that two bolts that had separated from the ceiling were of major concern, Williams said.

After the accident, Romney announced his intention to fire Matthew Amorello as chairman and chief executive officer of the Turnpike Authority, citing public safety concerns and ongoing mismanagement. According to Romney, Amorello dismissed the concerns of highly regarded outside engineering experts who raised questions about the safety of the tunnel system a year ago.

“Through his failures, Matt Amorello has undermined public confidence in the safety of the Big Dig tunnels, diminishing the project’s benefit to the public,” Romney said. “I am following the course set out in the law to bring in new leadership that can restore the public’s confidence.” Amorello is entitled by law to a hearing before his firing becomes effective.

The $14.6 billion Big Dig, which replaced the old elevated Central Artery through Boston, was the most expensive highway project in U.S. history, but has suffered ongoing problems related to faulty construction.