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Dissatisfied customer

Dear Better Business Bureau,

I'm not really the type to complain but felt the need to pass along some concerns about a contractor I've been having problems with.

About 20 years ago, my state and I decided to do some basic renovations in the capital city. We wanted to move a stretch of highway from above ground to underground. We thought it might be nice to create a new path to Logan Airport. Because of this, we had to move some utility lines, and we figured we'd need some new plumbing -- including drains, which are often problematic.

We chose an outfit out of San Francisco called Bechtel, mostly because it seemed like the most experienced company that was interested in the job.

We did all our homework, my state and I. We knew the company had worked on 20,000 engineering projects in more than 140 countries over the past 105 years. It had built 17,000 miles of highway. We only needed a few, so we figured it would be a breeze.

It didn't hurt that Bechtel is a family-owned business. At first, whenever we called, one of the Bechtels always got on the line.

So far, so good, right? Well, not for long.

We probably should have known we had a problem when they first arrived in town. They kept their tools lying around everywhere. They didn't pick up after themselves. They moved barriers all over our city so that yesterday's streets were today's blockades.

But we knew it was a complicated job, and Bechtel's expertise was in building, not housekeeping, so we kept our mouths shut.

But then they missed the FleetCenter in their design drawings. Seriously, their maps didn't have it. ``It fell through the cracks, if you will," a ranking Bechtel engineer told the Globe. That's a pretty big crack. It took Bechtel nearly $1 million to fix the problem, and we got the bill.

That was nothing compared to the $41 million it took to fix the Interstate 90 connector tunnel when it sprang a leak under the Fort Point Channel during construction and suddenly looked like Poland Spring.

Still, we didn't complain. Some neighbors of ours who were having their kitchen redone would lose their contractor for weeks at a time, so we felt lucky that ours was at least showing up for work.

Then a $6 billion project turned into a $10 billion project turned into a $14.6 billion project. Ten years became 15 became 20. And rather than apologize, Bechtel kept imposing higher and higher fees. Every mistake, every overrun, every delay, meant more profits. It didn't make any sense.

Every time we asked for money back, Bechtel gave it -- in the form of contributions to politicians, fees to lawyers, retainers to lobbyists. Every time we wanted to talk to them, they'd whisper in our governor's ear.

But it didn't get really bad until the tunnels opened. Evidently, it didn't occur to Bechtel that we preferred ours to be waterproof. Maybe their design drawings missed the Atlantic Ocean. On the first cold day, water gushed in, and workers ran around with hairdryers and duct tape, which didn't make us feel particularly good. Then we learned that the walls had hundreds and hundreds of leaks. Debris fell out of the vent system. I could go on.

Even then, we gave them a pass -- complicated engineering and all that. Finally, though, multiton ceiling panels kept up by bolts in epoxy -- a fancy term for glue, no? -- fell and crushed to death a woman named Milena Del Valle. A bunch of tunnels and ramps are closed indefinitely. The whole thing is an absolute disgrace.

It's probably too late to help us, though I do have one idea. Maybe they could install a concrete drop ceiling held up by a few epoxy bolts above the desk of company CEO Riley Bechtel. Every time he looks up, he can think of the Big Dig.

Short of that, I hope you'll keep this note in your Better Business Bureau files.

All the best, Brian McGrory

Brian McGrory is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at

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