Big Dig Consulting Firm Ordered to Stop Inspecting Tunnel Repairs

A consulting firm that is being investigated in a fatal Big Dig tunnel collapse was ordered to stop helping inspect repairs Tuesday, shortly after news reports revealed that the state had hired it for the job.

Bechtel/Parsons Brinckerhoff, the project manager for the $14.6 billion highway project, had been doing daily field inspections of work in the Interstate 90 connector tunnel, a company spokesman told the Boston Herald for a story published Tuesday.

The state transportation department sought the company's help, "and we'll do what we're asked to help support the reopening of the tunnel," said Andy Paven, a spokesman for Bechtel/Parsons Brinckerhoff.

The company is among the entities being investigated by state and federal authorities since a ceiling panel collapse killed a woman in July. No findings have been issued, and the company has said it stands by its work.

Republican Lt. Gov. Kerry Healey — acting as governor while Gov. Mitt Romney is out of state and running to succeed him as he explores a presidential bid — said she told Transportation Secretary John Cogliano on Tuesday to halt any involvement by Bechtel/Parsons Brinckerhoff in the inspections. Both Healey and Romney have criticized the company's oversight of the Big Dig in the past.

Cogliano would not tell The Associated Press who asked the firm to help with inspections, saying only, "I take full responsibility."

Cogliano spokesman Jon Carlisle said Tuesday night that the company had stopped their inspections.

Healey's Democratic opponent, Deval Patrick, seized on the issue.

"This is the biggest public works project in American history, and what we have seen is consistently shoddy leadership and management, and that has got to change — and if the voters give me a chance, it will," he said.

Said Healey: "Bechtel is in the penalty box. They should not be participating in the remediation process in any way. They do not have a place in the tunnels."

A Boston Globe/WBZ-TV poll published Oct. 1 showed Patrick with support of 55 percent of voters surveyed, compared with 30 percent for Healey. The poll had a margin of error of 4.3 percentage points.

A ceiling panel in the connector tunnel collapsed on a car carrying Milena Del Valle, 39, killing her. Investigators suspect bolts slipped free, freeing the panels, and new design and construction firms are repairing the problem.

Romney had criticized the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority's management of the Big Dig, and the Legislature authorized him to oversee future inspections after the fatal accident.

The Big Dig buried the old elevated Central Artery with a series of tunnels, ramps and bridges. The most expensive highway project in U.S. history also has been plagued by leaks, falling debris, delays and other problems linked to faulty construction.