Experts Question Safety of Boston’s Big Dig

The Big Dig’s top manager said that a top consultant was fired from the project over a possible conflict of interest, contradicting the man’s claim that he resigned because he was stonewalled and can’t vouch for the safety of the tunnels.

Massachusetts Turnpike Authority Chairman Matthew Amorello rejected allegations by George Tamaro, an internationally renowned engineer, that Big Dig managers denied him access to crucial information about the repair work done to leaky I-93 tunnels.

Amorello said Tamaro was dismissed from the project after he informed the Turnpike that his engineering firm is negotiating a deal with Parsons Brinckerhoff — one of the two companies that help manage the Big Dig — to work on a World Trade Center project in New York City.

“For (Tamaro) to turn around now and say he was let go for any other reason is disturbing,” Amorello said at the Big Dig’s Boston headquarters.

Amorello also reiterated his belief that the tunnels are “safe and structurally sound.”

“We have continually stated at the Turnpike Authority that we would open no roadway or allow anyone to use a roadway that was unsafe,” he said.

In a letter obtained by The Boston Globe, Tamaro wrote he was “totally uninformed on the current status of work” to repair leaks and added he hadn’t received anything from the project team in two months.

Tensions have been building between Tamaro and Turnpike officials because Tamaro opposes a plan to repair the tunnel walls, favored by project contractor Bechtel/Parsons Brinckerhoff, to plug weak spots in the wall with concrete and patch the wall sections with steel plates.

Tamaro prefers a more extensive and probably more costly plan that involves digging away the dirt alongside the walls of the tunnels and replacing large sections of the wall with new concrete.

“Nobody wants to hold their feet to the fire and get this done right,” Tamaro told the Boston Herald. ‘”That’s why I went into purgatory over there.”

Tamaro’s letter came days after engineer Jack Lemley, another independent specialist, said he couldn’t obtain key data from project managers and couldn’t vouch for the tunnels’ safety.

Tamaro, who built the slurry walls that withstood the Sept. 11 terrorist attack in New York’s World Trade Center, was hired last fall after a section of tunnel wall sprung a major leak.

In response to Lemley’s resignation, Gov. Mitt Romney asked the state’s high court to rule on whether he can fire Amorello.

Eric Fehrnstrom, Romney’s communications director, said that Tamaro’s departure is more evidence that Amorello isn’t fit to oversee the Big Dig.

“For anyone left wondering if Matt Amorello is part of the problem, this should answer that question,” he said. “He hired two of the world’s top engineering specialists, and got rid of them when they started asking too many questions.”

Amorello says he has no intention of stepping down.

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