A timely Big Dig read

Earlier, I blogged about a recorded book I listened to on my iPod while driving. It was called "Confessions of an Economic Hit Man" by John Perkins. I legally downloaded it from Boston Public Library (a fantastic service). For those who don't yet have or scoff iPods, it can be listened to through the computer or burned to a CD.

I had heard a radio interview with the author and became intrigued. What I learned when I read it was astounding.

Perkins started his career in Boston working for a company known as Charles T. Main. His job was as an economist who went to Third World countries to research and create economic projections on the benefits of certain public works projects. They were almost always enormous in scale and cost. I don't want to ruin it, but he lays out a scheme used by American companies to make sure these projects were approved by the local governments. Among the corporations named: Bechtel.

Those who've paid close attention to the Big Dig over the years will know that the project has been managed by a joint venture between Bechtel and Parsons Brinkerhoff. They're often reported in the press as a single entity. They are not. Perkins, to my memory, doesn't mention Parsons Brinkerhoff in his book, but he sure mentions Bechtel and puts it in league with other firms such as Halliburton. Mostly mentioned in regards to the ceiling collapse was Modern Continental. It seems like Modern Continental was a subcontractor of the Bechtel Parsons Brinkerhoff management. Ironically, Turnpike Chairman Matt Amorello reported yesterday that Modern Continental is in serious financial trouble. Which, by the way, probably makes it unlikely anyone will get any tort relief from it.

What I came away from the book thinking was that the same type of scheme that was perpetrated on Third World countries was perpetrated right here in Boston. In the end we drivers got better highways. I truly believe that. But ultimately, the coffers of a couple of corporations got much bigger.

It's clear to me that no one, in the project's nearly 20 years, every really owned this. There were too many jurisdictions involved. In the early days, it was managed by MassHighway. It wasn't until the 1990s that control was turned over the Mass. Turnpike. That was after the first or second major cost increases. And you know what? I think the transfer was done so it could be supported by tolls on the Turnpike, and so that oversight would be controlled by a quasi-public entity. Therefore, there would be much less oversight and much more overspending. What a farce! And yet, I have no way to get to work each day except to use the Big Dig ... at my peril.


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