Safety News

Boston Tunnel Slab Collapse


17 July 2006

(All material courtesy Boston.com
See Links at extreme right picture)

Concrete ceiling panels (each 3 tons) in a Boston tunnel collapsed on the vehicle in which Ms. Milena Del Valle was riding

Preliminary Causes?

Bolts anchoring the concrete panels to the roof of the tunnel were fixed with epoxy many years ago. They seem to have deteriorated with age.

Could this have been anticipated ? Aha, there lies a design question!
Read on for a case study in risk identification!

Memo warned of ceiling collapse
Safety officer feared deaths in '99, now agonizes over tragedy
By Sean P. Murphy, The Boston Globe Staff, July 26, 2006

The on-site safety officer for the Interstate-90 connector directly warned his superiors at contractor Modern Continental Construction Co. that the tunnel ceiling could collapse because the bolts could not support the heavy concrete panels, and feared for his conscience if someone died as a result.

John J. Keaveney -- in a starkly-worded two-page memo sent in 1999 to Robert Coutts, senior project manager for Modern Continental -- wrote that he could not "comprehend how this structure can withhold the test of time."

Keaveney added: ``Should any innocent State Worker or member of the Public be seriously injured or even worse killed as a result, I feel that this would be something that would reflect Mentally and Emotionally upon me, and all who are trying to construct a quality Project."

Keaveney, in an interview last night, said that after he raised the concern, his superiors at Modern Continental, the company then building the tunnel, and representatives from Bechtel/Parsons Brinckerhoff, the private sector manager of the Big Dig, sought to reassure him. They told him that such a system had been tested and was proven to work.

He said Coutts told him, " 'John, this is a tried and true method,' " he recalled. He also raised the concern in person with Bechtel/Parsons Brinckerhoff officials in subsequent conversations, but they said simply that they were doing the work to design specifications and that the ceiling would hold.


In the aftermath, then-Gov. Mitt Romney ordered a full review of the project to ensure its safety. The $4.5 million report was issued in November 2006 and found the highways, tunnels and bridges in downtown Boston were well built overall but needed some safety improvements.

The National Transportation Safety Board concluded the accident occurred because the wrong type of epoxy was used to hold bolts that anchored the ceiling tiles in place. In addition, the Department of Transportation’s inspector general was ordered to oversee the thoroughness of the full review.