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Let's recover what is due

By Adrian Walker, Globe Columnist, 2/13/2003


Bechtel's mistakes drive up cost overruns, and company profits.

Bechtel's fee overruns
Map of major conflicts
History of the contract
Contract modifications
Cross section of roadway
Construction cost overruns

State officials overlook and excuse Bechtel's mistakes for a decade.

Cost recoveries initiated

Powerfull allies help protect Bechtel and its bottom line.


This series has generated strong response from the state, the public, and Globe columnists.
More Globe coverage


On Feb. 20, 2003, Bechtel/Parsons Brinckerhoff issued a document disputing the findings of the "Easy Pass" series. Globe editor Martin Baron responded with a defense of the Globe's reporting.
Read Bechtel's statement
Read the Globe's statement


Building a reputation
Bechtel has never shied away from big construction projects, but worldwide achievements are accompanied by controversy.
See past Bechtel projects


Review cites flaws at Big Dig
Cerasoli charges Big Dig coverup
$1.4b overrun known in '99
Firm rejects call to offset costs
'99 memos warned of tunnel leaks

Officials disclose more defects
Lawsuit raises Big Dig questions
State to reopen deal with Bechtel
Big Dig hires quality manager
US knew of hidden expenses
Big Dig overrun just plain big
SEC probers to target Big Dig
Big Dig review to target overruns
Turnpike, firm set deal on leak cost

Contracts to be reviewed


Central Artery/Tunnel Project


Parsons Brinckerhoff

State Inspector General reports
On the history of the Central Artery/Tunnel project's finances:
On the Central Artery/Tunnel project's attempts to recover money for mistakes:

About "Scheme Z" bridge design

State oversight of the Big Dig

Mass. Turnpike Authority

The Artery Business Committee


On February 11, 2003, Globe reporter Raphael Lewis chatted with Boston.com readers about the Bechtel series.
Transcript of chat


Any tips? Let us know.
Phone: 617-929-3379
E-mail: bigdigtips@globe.com


Beyond the Big Dig   What happens to the ribbon of land being created by the depression of the Central Artery? A joint effort between The Boston Globe, MIT, and WCVB-TV explores.
A special report

Progress updates on the Big Dig. Info

State Senator Bruce Tarr was far from the only person shocked by the overruns and costly mishaps at the Big Dig. But he might turn out to be the most effective of the project's many critics.

Tarr, a Gloucester Republican, has filed legislation, which might be taken up as early as today, that would allow the state to attempt to recoup the hundreds of millions of dollars lost through the mistakes and misdeeds of Bechtel/Parsons Brinckerhoff, overseers of the country's biggest public works project.

It's difficult to comprehend screwups on the scale of those uncovered by the three-day Globe series that ran earlier this week. Everyone's favorite, it seems, including Tarr's, would be the drawings that somehow neglected to account for the presence of the FleetCenter. That's some strikingly incomplete blueprint.

Most of Bechtel's errors fall outside the statute of limitations, which would make recovering the public's losses difficult. The bill Tarr whipped up would extend that window to 25 years, giving the state a good, long while to seek some justice. As of last night, it had close to 50 cosponsors, both senators and representatives.

''The fact that we're facing dire fiscal challenges and the fact that millions, if not billions, of public tax dollars have escaped through this project is just unacceptable,'' Tarr said. ''The statute of limitations was having a chilling effect.''

The series was a lesson in the high cost of bad government. A combination of poor oversight and political connections has rendered the engineering giant virtually immune to accountability for a project that spun out of control years ago.

And while Tarr's efforts as well as Big Dig legislation drawn up this week by Secretary of State William Galvin are laudable, the fact is that absentee management by the state made this situation not only possible, but virtually inevitable. As Tarr said yesterday, a concerted lack of effort by all branches of government is to blame for this sorry situation.

These revelations couldn't have come at a worse time, especially if you're Bechtel. When the state was awash in cash - not that long ago - the soaring cost of the Big Dig was just another political issue characterized by a lot of hot air and not much action. Now that the state is in fiscal free fall, it is a much bigger deal. Tarr believes two rulings by the Supreme Judicial Court give strong backing to the notion that a statute of limitations can be extended, given a sufficiently compelling public interest. If he's right, the widely held assumption that Bechtel can never be held accountable could prove untrue.

Why, though, does it take a crisis to spring government into action? Why didn't the fact that billions of public dollars were at stake prompt strong oversight from the beginning? The whole thing has been unacceptable.

In fairness, the Big Dig does not lend itself to oversight by the Legislature. It is simply too complex to unravel without serious, concerted effort. Not to be unkind, but that isn't what the Legislature does. The Legislature gets consumed with an issue for a while, and then another issue comes along. Investigation isn't their thing, much less oversight.

But lawmakers will now attempt to rectify this mess, with the blessing of the Senate leadership. The bill is likely to pass - 48 cosponsors leaves it just 23 votes short - though a new law is unlikely to rectify all the damage that has been done. As Tarr concedes, at best it will embolden discouraged critics to come forward with their claims against the project.

''We're going to reset the clock and hope the players come back onto the field,'' was the way Tarr put it.

There was a time, long ago, when the cost of the Big Dig could be expressed in 10 digits. Now we know what we always suspected - that inflation isn't the only reason the cost has grown and grown. Even Beacon Hill has been forced to take notice. But it may be a case of too little, too late.

Adrian Walker is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at walker@globe.com.

This story ran on page B1 of the Boston Globe on 2/13/2003.
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