I survived part of the Big Dig

I made it through the Route 93 tunnel portion of the Big Dig alive, but mortality was more palpable today after hearing that Milena DelValle from Jamaica Plain was killed while she and her husband were driving to Logan Airport to catch a plane to Las Vegas.

They were driving through an underground section of the Mass. Turnpike extension at about 11 p.m. Monday night when a 40-foot section ceiling panels fell onto their car. Even though Channel 7 reported this morning that the type of panels used in the "older" section of the tunnel system are different than the ones in the Route 93 section, I'm not convinced of the safety the Route 93 ones. What gave way was a fastener. The panel doesn't matter in this equation as much as the fasteners.

Shortly after Route 90 extension tunnel opened, a state government worker who was then employed by a branch of government that had a modicum of oversight on the Big Dig told me that the ceiling panels were installed with only half as many fasteners as necessary. It was a cost-saving measure. That was still while Jim Kerasiotis was the Turnpike chairman and his favorite saying was, "on time, on budget," even while the costs were ballooning from $12 billion to $14 billion.

Fast-forward to today, when Channel 7 was interviewing present Turnpike Chairman Matt Amorello by telephone. He said the panels were installed by a company known as Modern Continental. He dropped, to me, a bombshell, that Modern Continental has major financial problems and may dissolve after its Big Dig contracts are complete. He said there were bondholders involved with Modern Continental, which sounds like the company is in receivership, to me.

What's most scary is the reality that people very close to me could have been killed. A coworker who sits next to drove through that very section of tunnel last night at 9:30 on his way home, only about 90 minutes before the ceiling panels killed a woman.

More importantly, it could have been family. My wife's sister, visiting from the Left Coast, is due to fly home from Logan on Thursday. It is possible that my wife, with my son and mother-in-law, could have been driving through the tunnel when this thing let go. It could have killed any of them. And, what freaks me out most, is that this isn't an irrational thought. A woman died in the tunnel last night. It is no longer hyperbole. My friend's haunting prescience has proved dreadfully correct.

UPDATE, July 12: Universal Hub reports via Joe Dwinell at bostonherald.com a fund has been set up for the family of Milena DelValle.


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