Massachusetts Plans 'Big Dig' Audit

From Associated Press

Gov. Mitt Romney said he plans to commission an independent review of the $14.6-billion highway project known as the Big Dig to determine whether taxpayers have been overcharged.

Government agencies' audits of the problem-plagued project lack credibility and may even be hindering the work of lead contractor Bechtel/Parsons Brinckerhoff, the governor said.

"I'd like to bring these reviews and audits together so that we don't have so many people going at the contractors," Romney said after a meeting with Bechtel Chief Operating Officer Adrian Zaccaria.

The governor, who took office in January, said he wants a review that is "professionally done and credibly done as opposed to sort of a headline-grabbing process."

Bechtel has come under increasing public scrutiny following a recent series by the Boston Globe that detailed what were described as errors by Bechtel in its management of the Big Dig. The series also criticized the state for failing to aggressively pursue more than $1.6 billion in overruns.

Bechtel last week offered an exhaustive defense of its work, calling questions about its handling of the highway project "half-truths and innuendo" and saying it was wrong to blame the company for more than $1 billion in overruns.

But the state inspector general's office released a report that said Bechtel sometimes blamed changes in conditions at construction sites for cost overruns to hide other reasons for the spiraling costs.

The Big Dig, officially known as the Central Artery/Third Harbor Tunnel Project, began in the 1980s and has become one of the most expensive highway construction projects in history.

The first portion to be completed was the Ted Williams Tunnel, which opened in 1995. Another milestone was reached last year with the completion of the Leonard P. Zakim Bunker Hill Bridge. In January, a tunnel opened allowing motorists to drive from Logan International Airport straight to the Massachusetts Turnpike.

The next phase -- taking the overhead Interstate 93 and putting it underground -- is supposed to be finished by early 2004.

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