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Big Dig Managers Consider Fund For Repairs, Apologize for Flaws

By Raphael Lewis and Sean P. Murphy

The Boston Globe -- Top executives of the company managing the Big Dig, testifying at a packed State House hearing Thursday, apologized for lapses that led to a massive leak in the Interstate 93 northbound tunnel wall on Sept. 15, and agreed to consider the creation of an unusual escrow fund to pay for future leak repairs.

The conciliatory remarks constituted the first admission of a major mistake by Bechtel/Parsons Brinckerhoff since engineering work began on the project two decades ago.

In addition to the apology, Bechtel/Parsons Brinckerhoff chairman John MacDonald said the firm would pay, along with the construction firms involved, for the cost of repairing the wall damaged by the September leak, and made the same pledge to cover the bill for inspecting thousands of additional wall panels for possible flaws in coming weeks.

“We apologize for our mistakes,” MacDonald said of the leak, which occurred in a section of the tunnel wall that Bechtel/Parsons Brinckerhoff engineers knew to be structurally flawed when it was built in 1999.

MacDonald expressed openness to the establishment of the escrow fund, proposed by Senator Steven A. Baddour, cochairman of the Legislature’s Joint Transportation Committee, which held the hearings. Baddour is pushing for the fund to make sure that money is available to continue leak repairs even after Bechtel Corp. of San Francisco and Parsons Brinckerhoff of New York leave town when construction of the Big Dig is complete next year.

Thursday’s testimony, unlike so many past State House appearances by Bechtel/Parsons Brinckerhoff executives throughout the long and controversial history of the $14.6 billion project, was a stark departure for a company that repeatedly insisted that it has “met or exceeded its contractual obligations” in all regards, despite massive cost overruns and construction delays.