Ways And Means Of Product Performance Surface In Big Dig

Federal agencies investigating construction methods and providers behind Boston’s Big Dig, or Central Artery/Tunnel (CA/T), took turns last month pointing


Federal agencies investigating construction methods and providers behind Boston’s Big Dig, or Central Artery/Tunnel (CA/T), took turns last month pointing fingers in ceiling failure and alleged false claims paperwork cases. Both have compounded negative publicity for the $14 billion project and raised questions on product specifications, acceptance and performance.

Product performance is central to a National Transportation Safety Board probable cause determination on a suspended, precast concrete panel ceiling’s collapse in a CA/T Interstate 90 connector tunnel (note page 6). In a scathing July 10, 2007 report on the incident Û which occurred exactly one year prior and claimed the life of a car passenger Û NTSB cited failures in specification review and structure inspection and maintenance protocol. The Board pulled no punches, faulting engineers, contractors, suppliers and Massachusetts transportation agencies. Respectful of the consensus process behind product testing, standardization and acceptance, the NTSB recommends the Federal Highway Administration, American Concrete Institute and a host of agencies and organizations that steer concrete practice take a hard look at epoxy adhesives and concrete anchoring systems.

The ceiling collapse occurred shortly after the Department of Justice charged a key Big Dig ready mixed supplier, Aggregate Industries Northeast Region, and six employees with false claims for payment involving noncompliant concrete. A plea agreement reached July 26, 2007, between Aggregate Industries, the United States and Commonwealth of Massachusetts calls for the company to pay $50 million in cash and indemnify through 2037 the Big Dig for an additional $75 million in the event structural work exceeds the upfront payment.

The bulk of the settlement will be held in an account dedicated to long-term maintenance of the CA/T, including structures bearing allegedly nonspecification concrete Aggregate Industries delivered from 1996 to 2005. The agreement resolves criminal and civil liabilities to an alleged conspiracy to defraud the United States through the submission of false claims for payment. (Separate from the plea agreement, the U.S. Attorney is pursuing a case against the Aggregate Industries Northeast employees who allegedly participated in the conspiracy.)

The U.S. Attorney contends that the company delivered to various Big Dig sites approximately 5,700 loads of ready mixed concrete that did not meet project specifications; those loads had exceeded a 90-minute limit for mix pouring or placement, or had been adulterated with addition of water or other ingredients not permitted under project specifications. The cash payment covers $42.72 million for federal and state false claims settlements, plus the account endowing future CA/T maintenance, and a $7.28 million fine to cover federal criminal charges.

There is little indication that Big Dig structures cast from Aggregate Industries’ product are not performing as designed.