'Big Dig' troubles turn into tragedy

Traffic passes through Boston's Big Dig Interstate 93 North tunnel in November 2004. More than 400 leaks have been discovered recently, due to faulty watereproof panels.

KAI RYSSDAL: You heard the news our of Boston, I'm sure. The Big Dig turned tragic today. Tons of concrete fell from the ceiling of one of that project's tunnels overnight. It killed the woman whose car it landed on. And added another chapter to one of the most expensive and mismanaged public works project in history. The Massachusetts attorney general said this afternoon he's treating the accident as a negligent homicide. He's already subpoenaing companies involved. We sent Sean Cole to ask some Bostonians how they're feeling about the Big Dig today.


SEAN COLE: If you actually have to drive through these tunnels, this is probably your worst nightmare, which means that you were already thinking about it a lot.
VOICE 1: I was horrified and not surprised, I guess.

VOICE 2: It's horrible. But I guess it didn't surprise me.

VOICE 3: You figured something like this was going to happen at some point.

People around here had already had to deal with leaks in the I-93 tunnel. This accident happened in the I-90 tunnel which runs to Logan Airport. But Matt Amarello, the chairman of the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority, swears that the tunnels are safe.

MATT AMARELLO: This is an awful situation that occurred and we will leave no stone and no expense spared in pursuing any wrongdoing that may have occurred in the installation of these ceiling panels.

Unfortunately, the Big Dig has rarely spared any expense, except maybe when some contractors were indicted for lining their pockets. The project was commissioned by Congress in the late '80's at $3 billion. When the I-90 tunnel finally opened in 2003 the cost had ballooned to more than $14 billion.

JENNIFER DENNING: It was kind of just a $14 billion waste.

Jennifer Denning works at a Boston real estate company.

DENNING: Where did that money actually go if it's falling apart now?

The Turnpike Authority says it should have part of the tunnel open again by noon tomorrow. It's also bringing in independent inspectors to figure out how the bolts holding in the ceiling panels gave way. Still, Michael Roberts, who calls himself a Boston bureaucrat, says he doesn't think this is going to be the last of the Big Dig's problems.

MICHAEL ROBERTS: I don't think anybody does. Not even my grandson.

COLE: How old is he?

ROBERTS: He's 9 years old.

In Boston, I'm Sean Cole for Marketplace.

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