The Securities and Exchange Commission has asked state officials overseeing the Big Dig to turn over documents related to safety reviews of the $14.6 billion highway project, including the portion of the tunnel system where a ceiling panel collapsed and killed a woman.
The request seeking reports since January 2004 was made in August, according to a disclosure form issued by the state in late September for an upcoming sale of bonds.
The state's inspector general said in a letter to legislators that was released Friday that two agencies _ the highway department and Gov. Mitt Romney's executive transportation office _ failed to inspect the Big Dig, including Interstate 90 where the collapse occurred, despite assuring bondholders that inspections were taking place. Another independent state authority, the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority, had direct responsibility for overseeing the project.
"The publication of false or incorrect information in bond prospectuses and other such documents has needlessly opened the Commonwealth to a U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission inquiry that can only further undermine investor confidence in the Big Dig,"Inspector General Gregory Sullivan wrote.
Messages seeking comment left after business hours with the SEC were not immediately returned Friday.
In his letter, Sullivan said the highway department conducted a single field inspection on June 16, 2005, that focused on the short and long-term effects of water leaks. He also questioned whether a review by the Romney administration of the Interstate 90 connector tunnel was ever completed, and said that investigations of the tunnel by the highway department stopped at some point during the summer of 2005.
Sullivan also said the bolts holding up the ceiling panels in the Big Dig's I-90 connector tunnel _ blamed for the fatal accident _ were inspected only once, immediately after installation in 1999.
Jon Carlisle, a spokesman for Office of Transportation, declined comment on any potential investigations, but criticized Sullivan's report as"shoddy"and said Romney is not to blame for the Big Dig's troubles.
"No one fought harder or more aggressively than Governor Romney to gain control of the Turnpike Authority and Big Dig,"he said.
The Big Dig has come under the scrutiny of the SEC before. In 2003, former Big Dig chief James Kerasiotes and the Turnpike Authority settled fraud claims with the SEC for failing to disclose $1.4 billion in cost overruns to the public.
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