he Massachusetts Legislature, jolted by the realization that the statute of limitations protects the Big Dig's managers from paying for hundreds of mistakes, voted unanimously yesterday to extend the deadline for bringing cost-recovery suits to at least 2013.
Bechtel's mistakes drive up cost overruns, and company profits.
Bechtel's fee overruns
Map of major conflicts
History of the contract
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
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
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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.
The measure, which only applies to the Big Dig, arrived on the desk of Governor Mitt Romney shortly after yesterday's vote, and aides said he was favorably inclined toward the legislation.
"We're certainly quite comfortable with the notion of extending the statute so there's a more reasonable time frame to look at this cost recovery issue," said Douglas Foy, Romney's top aide for transportation issues.
Current laws prohibit the state from filing lawsuits for negligence more than three years after mistakes are discovered. The state also has just six years to file breach of contract suits, the only other legal avenue. Because design work on the Big Dig began in the late 1980s and construction began in 1991, thousands of potential cases are currently out of reach to the state, according to present laws.
The legislation approved yesterday, which differed slightly from a measure approved by the state Senate earlier this month, would give state lawyers 10 years from the date a mistake is discovered, or from the date the legislation is enacted, whichever comes later. Any money recouped would go into the state's depleted rainy day fund.
The legislation passed just days before Romney is to meet with Adrian Zaccaria, the chief operating officer of Bechtel Group, the lead partner in the Big Dig's private-sector management consortium. Romney has demanded an explanation for the company's role in the dramatic cost growth at the Big Dig, which has been hammered by at least $1.6 billion in construction overruns so far. The two men are set to meet Friday.
Lawmakers said the tone of Romney's meeting with Zaccaria would be altered by the overwhelming support the legislation received yesterday.
"There's certainly an opportunity for the governor to exercise leadership on this issue in bringing Bechtel's resources to the table," said state Representative Joseph Wagner, a Chicopee Democrat who is cochairman of the Joint Transportation Committee.
Lawmakers yesterday also sent a letter to Romney urging him to sign the legislation "as expeditiously" as possible.
A Globe investigation earlier this month revealed that at least $1 billion in construction cost overruns could be tied to mistakes, incomplete research work, and poor decisions by the Big Dig's management company, Bechtel/
The investigation found the state has largely ignored such mistakes. Lawmakers yesterday cited the Globe's investigation as the catalyst to their recent legislative push for more time.
A Bechtel spokesman declined to comment on the legislation yesterday, but the company has denied that it has made any mistakes that constitute a breach of contract or negligence.
Foy said Romney is keeping an open mind about Bechtel's performance until after Friday's meeting, but the governor is still intent on hiring an independent engineering firm to evaluate overruns for potential cost recovery.
"We take very seriously the need to have an independent review," Foy said. "We will have an independent review."
The extension of the statute of limitations, he added, gives the state access to a far wider spectrum of cases to pursue. For example, the Ted Williams Tunnel was largely finished by December 1995, more than seven years ago, thus out of reach for filing suits.
Secretary of State William Galvin said the bill's passage marked a change in the state's attitude toward the project's management.
"This signals that the cozy relationship that has been obvious on this project between the managers and the allegedly managed is over," Galvin said.
The Massachusetts Turnpike Authority, which oversees the Big Dig, is already pressing ahead with its own cost-recovery program, which has included the hiring of a former judge and two seasoned construction lawyers to begin examining past overruns for potential lawsuits.
Sean O'Neill, a spokesman for the agency, said officials were enthusiastic about the prospect of having more cases to look at, if the legislation passes as expected.
"The Turnpike Authority's chairman and board are very pleased with the vote today and approval of the extension of statute of limitations," O'Neill said. "This could be a real asset."
Raphael Lewis can be reached at email@example.com