Hood ornament

I was nearly blind with boredom on tonight's ride home. Traffic was moving well, and the ride was particularly mundane. By chance, I noticed a Volvo ahead with something on it's roof. Immediately, I knew it wasn't one of those rooftop pods, but I couldn't tell what it was right away. I thought maybe it was some kind of missile. Then I got closer and thought, "No Freakin' Way! Is it? No way! It is!"

I grabbed my camera knowing I only had one shot at getting it. I got lucky and nailed the shot! I know it would have been hard to believe without photographic evidence.

Later, I took my exit, I wondered about the driver. Was this a particularly unique symbol of his membership of Red Sox Nation since the Hood Blimp, as chronicled by Eeka, is a staple over Fenway during Red Sox home games? Is the guy a Hood dairy employee or heir and helps with the advertising? Or is this guy just a fan of blimps?

I want to know his story. I want to know how he came upon this blimp. Did he make it himself? If so, how long did it take to make it? What is it made of? How much did it cost? If he's married, did his spouse willingly or grudgingly approve it. And, how about this one, even though it's aerodynamic, does the blimp cause a drag that makes him lose gas mileage?

If anyone knows this guy, e-mail me.



Duct tape and twine fixes everything

I know I'm coming to this part of the story a bit late, but the fact that duct tape was used to secure anything in these tunnels other than a sign to a wall really pisses me off.

In high school, I had this friend who would play street hockey with guys from his neighborhood. I joined them on the driveway/half court at one kid's house one day. The host, who also insisted on always being the goalie, had on his "street hockey sneakers," as he called them. They were a sorry pair of formerly white leather low tops. His feet were sticking out of holes all over the place and the only thing keeping them together was duct tape and twine.

I remember making a comment about them, and the guy smiled broadly and said, "Duct tape and twine fixes everything." In the years since, I've come to realize that was a very wise and true statement as I used both separately and in tandem to repair many things. It was invaluable advice. It seems, maybe, the kid with the busted sneakers knew some guys on the Big Dig with a fastening problem and he shared his wisdom with them.



The other proposed Big Dig is dead

There was another tunnel project proposed for downtown Boston around the same time as the Central Artery/Tunnel. It was called the North-South Rail Link and it was meant to connect the two rail termini in Boston at North and South stations. Like Artery, it was meant to be underground, and there was supposed to be a station at Aquarium, and here's a computer model. According to the Wikipedia entry, the state withdrew support for the project in May.

The link was deemed necessary two decades ago, especially when rail-friendly Michael Dukakis was governor, but support waned as the Big Dig construction costs continued to balloon. I gather that as the public has learned about the shoddy construction of the highway tunnels, planners decided the state couldn't stomach another 15-year, $15 billion-dollar tunnel system.


Inspector general's report on Big Dig bolts

Almost since the news first broke about the ceiling collapse in the connector tunnel on the Route 90, I have heard over and over about a report by former state Inspector General Robert Cerasoli on the inferior bolt system used to hang ceiling panels.

I heard about it again as I was listening to the radio on my alarm clock this morning and decided to see if I could find it online. You know what? It took two seconds to get to the page where all of the IG reports dating back to 1997 are posted in some form. Here's a link to the executive summary and the PDF download of the whole report.

Scroll through the list. There's more than one report on the Big Dig there.



A Mini Masshole

There's little I hate more about driving around these parts than being cut off. It is the same kind of rudeness as someone cutting in a line of people. At least in a line of people, however, those in the line are more likely to speak up and shame the person into waiting like the rest of them. It's not as easy in a car. Even though we blow our horns, the cutting driver is more likely to gun it and power ahead rather than admit fault and yield to the rightful flow of traffic.

This morning, for example, I came across a Mini driver who believed the best way to enter the rotary on Salem Street in Medford was at about 35 miles per hour with his foot pressing hard on the gas, rather than feathering the brake. What's more, he looked right at me coming around the rotary and judged that if he pressed harder on the accelerator he could beat me. And he was right. He sped past me as I gave a long horn blast.

I can be forgiving of someone who makes a simple mistake or misjudgment, but based on how the Mini driver behaved as he continued towards Medford Square on Salem Street. The road is a one-way street heading towards the intersection of several streets: High, Main, Forest and Riverside. It is four lanes wide and at any given time, there could be cars double-parked. And this guy just barreled down, changing lanes to try to find the fastest way through the square. It was evident he was a completely self-involved jerk as he crowded other drivers and even tailgated as he seemingly nudged his way through the intersection to head towards Mystic Ave.

It is times like these when I wish it had some kind of device to shame the driver the way people standing in a line can do to a cutter. Blowing my horn was ineffective, because at the time he cut me off, we were the only cars around. He didn't care if I blew the horn all the way to Timbuktu; he had beaten me. And if I followed him and continued to blow my horn, the other drivers sure would have thought that I was the jerk.

When I first thought about starting this blog, I had the idea of reporting people's license plates. But as the idea progressed, I thought better because chances were the driver wouldn't be reading my screeds, and if he or she did actually read this blog, I would only be inviting trouble.


Falling sky prompts more closures

Gov. Mitt Romney ordered the eastbound Ted Williams Tunnel closed today because another panel was found to be unsafe. How long until he closes both sides of the Tip O'Neill tunnel?

Another ticking timebomb in Boston is the UMass Boston garage. The school closed that crumbling facility today, finally. I attended UMB from 2000 to finish my bachelor's as an adult student. I graduated (magna) in June. I can tell you that I was never more afraid for my life than when I was in that garage. It was very clearly falling apart in many areas, and I have seen bridges closed in this state that were in better condition. After the new Campus Center was built, I started to park in its outdoor lot when I could, and eventually just finished my degree with online classes through the university. The online environment was great in that I didn't have to leave my house, but better yet that I didn't have to go to campus and risk my life.

The closure comes on the heels, though unrelated to, a call for another Ward Commission by state Sen. Marian Walsh. Via Univeral Hub, Walsh has called for a special commission to investigate all of the wrongdoing on the Big Dig the way the Ward Commission did following the construction of the campus at UMass Boston.


Big Dig boondoggle video

Following one of my Technorati links, I stumbled upon this gem of a video compilation. I have only watched a couple of minutes of it, but if the whole thing is as good as the first few minutes, then this will stand in my mind as the best video about the whole Big Dig project's problems. The video is done in the style of a Michael Moore bit, though without narrative commentary. Apart from that, like Moore, the video's maker seems to relish in splicing together bits of video that produces a great mini documentary on the Big Dig. It doesn't break new ground, just puts a lot of great Big Dig info in one stream. Note how former Turnpike Chairman Andrew Natsios takes credit for cleaning up the Big Dig in an interview as the top honcho at US AID.

This comes to Boston Crazy Driving via Universal Hub's blogs section, as posted by John Guilfoil, who also embeds the video on his site, PRrag.com.

Update 3 p.m.: I finally had the chance to watch the video in full. There is a bit of commentary; white lettering on black screens, so it is more like a Michael Moore piece than I thought. Sorry if I misled anyone.

I was intrigued by the amount of screen time dedicated to Natsios in the piece. Let me add a bit of history here. Local lore places Natsios among four Republicans in Massachusetts known adoringly (and I mean that sincerely) as the Four Horsemen: Natsios, former Gov. Paul Cellucci, Andrew Card and Ron Kaufman. The four of them, if my memory and legend hold true, supported George H.W. Bush in his candidacy for president in 1980 before Ronald Reagan got the nomination.

Massachusetts was a blue state even then, and these four men were remembered by the Bushes for their early loyalty. After George W. Bush was elected in 2000, all of them could be accounted for on the national level. Kaufman was Republican National Committee chairman, Card, of course, became Bush's chief of staff. Cellucci, as is well known around these parts, left the Massachusetts governorship to be ambassador to Canada. Natsios was tapped to head USAID. It was his departure that allowed Amorello to move from MassHighway chief to head the Turnpike and Big Dig.

And while on the subject of connections, here's a Wikipedia entry for the head of Bechtel.



More Mass. Pike traffic trouble

Boy am I glad I am safely ensconced in an office park today. A sand truck rolled on the Pike near Boston University today. Yikes.

Oh, and if anyone is wondering, Mercury is retrograde. I'm not much into astrology, but I'm told that means mass chaos. It went retrograde on July 4. Just think of everything that's happened in the world since then beside the tunnel collapse. There's fighting between Hezbollah and Israel leading to a major evacuation of noncombatants in Lebanon. An underwarter earthquake caused another deadly tsunami. Beloved French footie ZiZu snaps over a comment about his mum and headbuts an Itlian teammember in the World Cup final, possibly costing l'republique it's bragging rights. And the Red Sox bats have been pretty silent.


Big Dig detour changes

The braintrust at the Big Dig has apparently switched the detour caused by the closed I-90 connector tunnel that links to the Ted Williams Tunnel. Now traffic heading Logan Airport is being routed over the not so lovely Mysitc Tobin Bridge. The good news is the bridge is toll free on the lower deck/northbound side, so going to the airport won't be an extra charge.



Big Dig chief on the plank

Gov. Mitt Romney is trying to do what others, and even he, couldn't before: Fire Turnpike Chairman Matt Amorello.

The Daily Briefing and several other news outlets are reporting that the state's CEO governor has sent "the letter" to Amorello, as Howie Carr called it last night when he revealed a rumor that this was going to happen on his radio who on WRKO 680AM. The letter, as it were, is a list of charges against Amorello in the wake of the fatal ceiling collapse last week in the connector tunnel to the Ted Williams Tunnel on Route 90. The collapse killed Jamaica Plain mother and newlywed Milena Del Valle, who will be buried soon in her native Costa Rica.

The charges attempt to lay out the reasons why Romney is seeking to fire Amorello, who has had the benefit of a previous Turnpike firing case that ruled the governor must have cause to fire someone on the Turnpike Board of Directors, of which Amorello is the $200,000-a-year chairman.

I say, go get him, Mitt, for the public's and my own safety.


Big Dig's O'Neill tunnel now suspect?

Remember when Mass. Turnpike Chairman Matt Amorello and Gov. Mitt Romney assured the motoring public that the Tip O'Neill tunnel (Route 93) was safe because the ceiling system used in those tunnels was completely different than the one that collapsed last week in the Ted Williams tunnel connector?

Guess what. Fox25 Morning News reported that apparently 60 areas in the Tip are suspect. They will now be subject to daily inspections. Great.

I took a small measure of comfort that the ceiling's hanging system in the Tip was different than the one that failed. Even though I looked at the ceiling panels in the Tip and saw that the panels themselves were very similar to the ones in the Ted connector, I had to convince myself that this time Amorello was telling the truth. For my own peace of mind, I had to believe that for once something coming from Amorello's mouth would be truthful.

I wish I could give the guy the benefit of the doubt, but most of the Tip tunnel was completed on his watch. The parts that matter in this discussion at least; meaning the ceiling system. Therefore, he should know what's holding it up. I can't blame Romney for misleading us, because I don't think he has paid much attention to detail on the project until now, just like the governors before him. That's not a slam. Romney wasn't managing the project. That was Amorello's job.

Maybe the hanging system is indeed different, but does different make it safe? No. And I was stupid to put even a modicum of faith in Amorello's statements.

At least Romney, who is now managing the project, has the guts to admit there could be problem with other tunnels. He may be late to the game, but his relief appearance so far has been reassuring (to turn a baseball metaphor).

I will be glad when this is behind us, but I know it the threat of tunnel collapse will always be hanging over my head, pun intended.


Crazy driver causes accident

It's a call everyone dreads: someone has been in a car accident.

In this case yesterday, it was my mother-in-law, who was taken from an accident in an ambulance, and later released from the hospital. Luckily, she wasn't severely injured with cuts or broken bones, but she will have a recovery period after being rear-ended in Braintree. She was sitting in her car, stopped at a red light, when one of Boston's famous crazy drivers crashed rear-ended the car behind her. The force of that impact pushed the car into my mother-in-law's and she got rocked pretty hard.

This was the classic example of someone not paying attention, and it caused injury. We're all fortunate it wasn't something extremely serious.

UPDATE 7/19/06: A commenter noticed a typo. I have fixed it where it said my mother-in-law was severely injured. She wasn't severly injured. She is getting better as of today, but still feeling strong effects of the accident.



Re-name the Rose Kennedy Greenway

Angel Del Valle, whose wife Milena died in the Route 90 connector tunnel a week ago, has said he won't sue anyone for his wife's death by falling ceiling tiles. In our hyper-litigious society, it's actually kind of refreshing to hear. I'm sure there will still be some kind of government (and I would hope private industry) remuneration to Ms. Del Valle's family in Costa Rica since she was their primary breadwinner.

But what about another way, instead of money, to honor the sacrifice Ms. Del Valle made? One that would ensure she is never forgotten. I suggest the Rose Kennedy Greenway be re-named the Milena Del Valle Memorial Greenway.

I understand the historical context of why Rose Kennedy, the mother of a president and two U.S. senators, was chosen. In addition to giving birth to and raising them, she also was the daughter of the city's mayor, John F. "Honey Fitz" Fitzgerald. The greenway, a phoenix of the former Central Artery's ashes, will be a new boulevard in the city where the former John F. Fitzgerald Expressway once cut through. It was a very convenient way to honor someone who begat three men who have shaped history in this country. (That's not an endorsement of them. Like them or not, they cannot be erased from history. By my count, only Abigail Adams and Barbara Bush can compare to Rose Kennedy.)

But there are other Rose Kennedy memorials around these parts. None as grand as the greenway; still they exist.

Rose Kennedy, however, had the benefit of living to age 105. She died of old age, which is an experience Milena Del Valle was deprived of having. She won't live her full life thanks to bolts that were installed improperly, and a tunnel ceiling system made of 3-ton concrete panels. At least, by naming the greenway after her, she will live forever in our collective consciousness and collective conscience.


Big Dig detours

The "experts" are now saying the deadly Route 90 connector tunnel to the Ted Williams Tunnel will likely be closed for MONTHS. I'm glad someone is finally taking this seriously, because it seems like this whole project has been nothing but a big joke played on the public and each time a contractor cut a corner, he and the Turnpike chairman at the time would meet together for a beer in the Financial District to have a laugh at our expense.

Since the tunnels are going to be closed for a few months, there needs to be a clearer temporary route to get drivers to the old tunnels. Mac Daniel's Starts and Stops blog has the proposed routes posted here. I know one thing for sure, the Turnpike needs to reopen one of the HOV lanes. The last exit before the tunnel, I think it's labeled Exit 22, is a high-occupancy alternative to the Ted Williams Tunnel and South Station. The ramps diverge at one point, allowing the South Station traffic to access surface roads, and since last Tuesday morning the exit has been closed entirely. I don't know why exactly, because it would seem to me that allowing HOV access to South Station would be another detour alternative for drivers.

I say, why not close the Ted Williams Tunnel portion of the HOV ramp and allow traffic to flow as normal on the South Station HOV ramp.

On the other hand, I'm glad to see they're allowing all traffic on the South Boston Bypass Road, also known as Haul Road. It's a secret little expressway from the Southie waterfront to Route 93 at Mass. Ave. It's for commercial vehicles only, and I don't understand why because whenever I've been in a commercial vehicle on it, there's never been too many other vehicles. It will be a rare treat for most Boston drivers to get on this road. It's a bolt-straight, two-lane road that has the potential of shaving some serious time off the commute under normal circumstances, and it has been preserved for commercial vehicle access only and enforced with regular police patrols who hand out expensive tickets.

I'm sure traffic will be a mess as drivers get used to these detours. As such, I've had to modify my commuting times. I now go into the office later and leave later, and I'm thankful I have a boss and a job that allows me to do that. Otherwise I'd be crankier than normal.



Big Dig fraud hotline

Here's a link to the state's page to report Big Dig fraud. Let's all call and say that a fraud has been perpetrated on the public trust.


A sign of hope?

Hanging signs and banners from highway overpasses has become pretty popular in these parts, and it seems like MassHighway tolerates it. Many are done by veterans, patriots and Blue Star families who wish to welcome home a loved one. I think they're really nice tributes.

Some have displayed other messages, like the person who is promoting his Web site: www.cancelmyglobe.com on bridges around Lexington.

Today, hanging from Savin Hill Avenue bridge over the northbound lanes of the Expressway was a sign displaying someone's unrequited love. "I miss you Marybeth. Smile. Chris," it read. If it's still up on Monday, I'll try to get a picture of it.


Free MFA admission

Sorry, this one won't be about driving.

Even though I'm a guy's guy, I like culture. Or, as we say around here: culcha.

I read with interest in the Globe that Whistler's Mother was coming to the MFA as part of the Americans in Paris exhibit. Since it hasn't been to Boston since 1982, I figured it was worth it. My friend Jen and I made plans to go last night, which happened to be the first in a series of Thursdays that Bank of America has paid for free admission (PDF DOWNLOAD) to the exhibit. It was coincidental and fortuitous that this happened. We also got a meter spot on the east side of the museum!

We went to the main entrance and stood in line with the rest of the hoi poloi (to use a Brahmin term) in the rain to wait for them to roll out a cake with the image of John Singer Sargent's Madame X painting, which was accompanied by a live model. There was the usual rah-rah, thanks to BOA for its generosity, yada-yada. Um, hello, it's raining! Then they handed out the cake. Jen and I declined because I particularly prefer cake that hasn't been rained on. She just wasn't in the mood for cake.

Our tickets were timed and ended up having 45 minutes to kill. We hit a few other galleries first, including one with floor-to-ceiling photos. It was quite impressive, until we got to the ones with the disemboweled animal carcasses. I'm open minded with art, but I couldn't see how this was anything more than the artist's fascination with animal gore. I can go on about the composition, but it carry on too long for this post. At least it did what art is meant to: it got a reaction out of me.

We moved on to other galleries until it was time for our entry to the Americans in Paris. I was reasonably impressed with Whistler's Mother and Madame X, but generally disappointed in the rest. (It was also kind of creepy to have a live model of Whistler's Mother sitting in front of the painting, too. She did have an uncanny facial resemblance, though, too.) It almost seemed like one of the conditions of getting Whistler's Mother on loan was to have it as part of an exhibit. That's not to say the other pieces and artists were junk. I saw some that really intrigued me, but this wasn't the best exhibit I've seen at the MFA. Jen and I agreed we were really glad we didn't have to pay.


A Mercedes driver with special powers

One of the things most Massachusetts drivers pride themselves on is multitasking while driving. Being able to drink coffee, talk on the phone and honk at the slow car in front is a much-bragged-about skill in these parts. So, it's no wonder to me that Adam points out on Universal Hub a Masshole in a Mercedes working on his PDA.



Big Dig ceiling panels may have a purpose

The most convenient way for me to get to work each day is to use the Tip O'Neill tunnel. Not to use it would mean either driving over surface roads in the city (not an option) or going around the city on Route 128. That ain't happenin' either. So, I'm stuck risking my life in the Big Dig tunnels, hoping each time that some epoxy doesn't fail causing 3-ton ceiling panels to come crashing down on my head.

And so it was this morning that I found myself driving through the tunnel, and yes, I was looking up at the panels to see how if I can figure out how close this hanging system is to the one described as being used in the Ted Williams Tunnel. Turnpike Chairman Matt Amorello said the system in the Ted was used only in that section. I don't believe him, but I have no choice but to hope he's telling the truth.

A lot of the questions around the tunnel ceiling's collapse have centered on the panels, and the fact that they were made of concrete and weighed 3 tons. Most in the blogosphere have questioned the need for anything concrete, let alone 3-ton slabs, hanging from the ceiling. Well, I'm no engineer, but I have a feeling I can speculate on the need.

Planning the tunnels requires more than just positioning exit and entrance ramps and lane configurations. The tunnels need to be constructed to withstand major catastrophes. Remember when that unlicensed produce trucker went careening through the northbound side of the tunnel at 70 mph and crashed into the wall? He took out about four or five of the tile wall panels and closed the highway for several hours before and during the morning commute. At the time, Amorello said the tunnel systems worked perfectly. Indeed, they did. The actual structure of the tunnels wasn't damaged.

Now imagine a similar catastrophe that sent some kind of eruption into the ceiling. Perhaps two trucks collide and are driven upwards. Or, a truck driver hauling hazardous chemicals ignores all the signs prohibiting his vehicle from the tunnel and crashes causing a major explosion in the tunnel. The eruption would push upward to the city streets above and all the unsuspecting motorists and pedestrians on the soon-to-be-lovely Rose Kennedy Greenway.

Does anyone but me remember the Amtrak train that came into Ruggles Station at 100 mph in in early 1990s? It jumped the tracks and crashed into the ceiling of that tunnel and the force ruined the pavement on the street above it.

My guess, and it's really only a guess, is that the panels actually serve the purpose of containing a catastrophe. They need to be heavy and strong enough to withstand explosions and forceful impacts to limit the amount of destruction that can be caused. And it would take a lot of force to move something that's 3 tons upwards. Unfortunately, gravity's pull requires much less to bring it down.


Catch me if you can

Traffic slowed in the Tip O'Neill tunnel this morning as an unmarked state police cruiser entered from Downtown with its lights on and it was traveling very slow. No one could figure out why, so we all went slow, too.

After doing this for a few hundred feet I found out why. A guy was actually walking in the tunnel. He seemed to come from nowhere and crossed all four lanes just near exit 26 to Storrow Drive. I don't know where he came from. There wasn't a disabled vehicle. Maybe he came from one of the emergency exits. I couldn't tell because I was so stunned to see someone crossing an interstate, let alone an underground one.

The trooper caught up with him and detained him, but I don't know what happened after that. Thinking about it now, I'm still stunned to see someone running across the road only one car in front of me.



A friend's traffic nightmare

Liz, one of those friends who has been around so long it's hard to remember life without her, was one of those stuck in traffic on Route 1 South Tuesday after rainstorms washed out the Lynnfield tunnel. She posts her experience and photos here. Please note, I've added her to my blogroll, like a good friend.

She's also new to the blogosphere, so please be kind and send her site counter soaring.

Cheers, Liz, and welcome aboard. The more the merrier!


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.


Karma strikes just right

I was driving home tonight and realized I forgot to post an item I drafted last week. So, I bring it to you now. It was also a Wednesday and I was heading home on Route 128 south in the late evening. I was passed on the left by a Saturn from New Hampshire that was driving very fast. I know it seems like an anachronism. I don't run across very many speeders from Cow Hampshire, and I seldom see a Saturn driver exceeding any posted speed limit. If there's one type of driver who can usually be counted as safe in my book, it's a Saturn driver.

Because of the driver's speed and the cutting and slashing across lanes, I was really rooting for a cop to stop the driver. Well, as the miles rolled under my wheels, I quickly forgot about the Saturn driver, preferring to focus on the Red Sox game (if memory serves). Then about 15 miles or so south, in Needham, I saw the well-known blue lights strobing against the darkness. And guess who had been pulled over. That's right! The Saturn from New Hampshire.

I literally pumped my fist and screamed "Yes!" at the top of my lungs. I was so happy. I wanted to pull over and tell the state trooper that he did a great job in nailing this driver because he or she was driving erratically for several miles. I didn't actually pull over, of course.

If there's one bit of advice I can give readers here: don't speed or be a bonehead in the Needham flats area of Route 128 (between exits 18 and 19), because there's almost always a state trooper working traffic supervision there. Almost always.

Well, I was still basking the excitement of seeing that Saturn driver get pulled over when I got off at my exit. Almost as soon as I was on surface roads, I was being tailed so closely by a white Corolla that I couldn't see its headlights. This is one of those times I wish I had a scrolling red diode sign in my back window that displayed any number of messages. This, of course, I'm sure would only incite road rage, however. In lieu of the sign, I did something more aggravating. I dropped the anchor and made sure I did exactly the speed limit of 35 mph, slowing to 30 mph when the signs called for it.

Sure enough, I was soon passed by the Corolla driver even though there was a double yellow line. As the driver passed, I got the plate and called the local gendarmes. I turned over the plate, gave a description of the car, told of the driver's actions and the car's direction of travel.
Some might argue that I provoked the driver to pass me. True. But I didn't provoke the tailgating. That was occurring even before I dropped anchor.

I don't know if the cops caught up with the Corolla driver, but the dispatcher seemed very pleased to send a patrol officer looking.


Trucks prohibited means you, too

Regular readers know I'm a stickler for the rules of the road, and they know that I do my best to adhere to them. That's why I get so agitated when I see others wantonly breaking these rules. I figure they do it mainly out of ignorance, but I'm sure a good portion do it because they don't fear punishment.

Now, before the cops out there want to comment, I'm not criticizing them in any way. I see plenty of traffic enforcement out there, which is one of the reasons I don't speed, I stop at stop signs and I don't ignore signs limiting turns and such.

But cops can't be everywhere all the time, as in today's experience with two Peter Pan buses on Rouet 128 north. Buses numbered 711 and 714 barrelled up the highway at speeds exceeding 70 mph and travelling mainly in the left two lanes. Both are posted no-nos on the sat stretch. The posted speed limit is 55 mph, even though the traffic usually goes a steady 60 to 65 mph. More importantly, signs placed in the median at quarter-mile intervals clearly state "Trucks prohibited from left two lanes."

Normally, I wouldn't care too much about trucks in the center left lane, especially if they were using it to pass slower traffic. But seeing both of these bus drivers using the left lane to weave through traffic in the fashion of a sports car driver, really irked me. So I took pictures of each of them in the left lane as proof that they were there long enough to actually snap pictures of them. The top one is of bus 711. The mirror photo is of bus 714. Note the other truck next to bus 714 is in the center left lane, despite all the signs.



Google Blog Search: Big Dig

Google Blog Search: "Big Dig


Big Dig empty on one side

I left work tonight expecting the longest commute home ever. Instead, the Big Dig was empty like a Sunday morning. Traffic on the southbound side was very, very light. Even the usual slow down areas, such as the tunnel exit to the South Bay mall, was a speed limit breeze.

Perhaps this proves my theory to some degree. A daily driver of the Big Dig, I noticed something particularly troubling. After all the traffic studies and ramp configurations, the planners still managed to plunk down a few boners. The ramp from the Ted Williams Tunnel that dumps onto Route 93 South creates a real problem at the tunnel exit. I notice most of the traffic coming from the airport trying to exit at Mass. Ave. That move requires crossing about six lanes of traffic because at nearly the same point another ramp is allowing traffic from Downtown to enter the roadway.

Just past the Mass. Ave/Melnea Cass Blvd exit, another onramp dumps the HOV traffic from the airport onto the road, and only a couple hundred feet later, all of the South End, Roxbury, North Dorchester and Southie wedge onto the highway in front of the Fortress Building.

Of course, it's still better than what we had before, but the South Bay onramp at the Fortress Building and the Ted tunnel onramp at the O'Neill tunnel exit are both particularly troublesome. Both entry points are what causes such terrible traffic. Maybe it will change once the whole thing is complete, but I think all of the ramps and exits are open now, meaning nothing will change in traffic patterns.

With the Ted closed today, there was obviously no traffic coming onto the highway at all, but it was hard to know for sure what the net loss in cars would do, because all southbound traffic was so light. I mean, I didn't pick up a steady grid of traffic until Morrissey Boulevard in Dorchester. Mostly, there were two or three cars near me for the bulk of the ride.

By contrast, it was so heavy on the northbound side of Route 93, both into and out of the city, that it looked like a disastrous morning commute. It reminded me of the time the unlicensed trucker crashed into the wall and took out about four or five tile panels in the wall. It took me about three hours to get to work that day.

Anyhow, here's a list of previous Big Dig posts.
Grimy walls
Radio set to frustrated
It's about damn time
What's in a name
Dead spots and forgiveness
Reilly no friend of sunshine
The Logan Express
Clog in the leaky tunnel
I'll second that emotion
Brand new and insufficient
More on signs
Tip would be embarrassed


The Big Dig is safe. Well, from now on

It's time to close the whole tunnel system down for a day or more, and if Turnpike Chairman Matt Amorello doesn't have the stones to do it, then the Federal Highway Administration should.

Amorello told Channel 7 that the Pike's first priority is the safety of the motoring public. Well, from now on, at least. If safety were the Pike's first priority, it would have managed the project much better to make sure it didn't leak a million gallons of water, or that ceiling tiles would fall and kill someone.

So, shut the whole Big Dig system down, with enough warning to the public, and inspect every bit of it. Inspect every trickle of water (I still have drops of water fall on my car from the roof in the Route 93 South tunnel), inspect every fastener of every kind, inspect the wall panels to make sure they're hung correctly, inspect the drainage system to make sure it flows properly. Then, fix every damn thing that's wrong with it before reopening it. Because if the safety of the motoring public is the Pike's first priority, drivers like me will understand. We know the tunnels weren't built well at all, and now they need Band-Aid fixes. But rather than put the rest of the motoring public at risk while repairs are made, make the tunnels safe. I don't know why it seems so simple only to me.


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.


Woman dies in Big Dig tunnel

A 40-foot section of ceiling came crashing down on a husband and wife last night in one of the underground tunnel sections of Route 90 East in South Boston that connects the Ted Williams Tunnel to the rest of the Massachusetts Turnpike.

The woman, according to this Globe article, was killed and the husband had to crawl out a window. The photo, via boston.com, was taken by AP shooter Michael Dwyer. Here's a link to some NECN video.

The easy thing for me to write would be, "I knew it would happen." And, perhaps, that's even a roundabout way of writing it.

For right now, though, I'm going to pray for the family, and try to find another way to work.

Additional posts here and here.



Is the world minus one chipmunk?

It's dangerous enough on the roads around these parts for drivers, cyclists and pedestrians, but it's killer for God's creatures great and small; especially while I'm driving.

I have had the misfortune of hitting at least one squirrel and a bird flew into my front grill once (it bounced off and flew away in a startled zigzag). Today, a chipmunk may have also met his demise at my hand.

It has been a harrowing few days for the wee critters running around creation in my presence. It all started Sunday when Mrs. Boston Crazy driving have to swerve to avoid hitting a Peter Cottontail. This cuddly little guy sat on the roadside very patiently, then darted out in front of us at the last second. She swerved and missed, luckily, as Peter had second thoughts and bounced back into the thicket alongside the Scituate road.

Well, today it was my turn to slalom around a mammal daring enough to step onto one of our roads. I was in Milton, rolling along at 30 mph, failing at staying on key to "Never Surrender" by Corey Hart, when just ahead sat a tiny brown object. A leaf? It moved. Was it blown by the wind? No. Oh shit! It's a chipmunk. Is it Chip or Dale? Can't see the nose or teeth to tell.

So, I do an evasive maneuver, but at the last second, it looks like he lined up right in front of my tire's new direction. I look in the sideview to check for it on the road. Nothing. I didn't feel a bump, but would I? Oh, the agony. I really hope the little guy got away safely.

Later tonight, on my way to the grocery store, I almost hit another critter. This time, a squirrel was in the road, and he was in front of a minivan heading towards me. The minivan had stopped and was waiting for it to cross, but the squirrel just laid still and seemed to play dead. Do they do that? I mean it really looked like it had already been hit. No blood, just dead. He mashed his face into the ground. Maybe he was putting his little forepaws over his little head in fear.

Believe it or not, these weigh on my conscience because I try not to hurt anything, except all mosquitos and only the mice that try to nest in my kitchen. I'm not the type of person who wantonly kills bugs and critters simply because I'm bigger. Aside from assuring the health of my family and myself, of course. I do like to fish, but not for sport. I do like to try to eat my catches, and when I do have to throw some back, I try very hard not to cause any more harm to the fish than necessary.

So, Mr. (or Mrs., or Ms.) Chipmunk, I hope you are safe with your family tonight. I will say a little prayer for you tonight, because there but for the grace of God go I.



A diner named for a boondoggle

I'm actually kind of surprised more things haven't been labeled Big Dig around here. Of course there's the great Brigham's ice cream flavor Big Dig, but that's really all that comes to mind. I don't see T-shirts that say, "I fell into a hole in the Big Dig and all I got was this lousy T-shirt!" Or, "I got lost on the Big Dig and survived."

Then while I was down in Marine Industrial Park on Friday for work, I ran across one of the few surviving classic diner cars in Boston. As luck would have it, it's called the Big Dig Diner. The details on the exterior are great, even though it is looking a little careworn. I was impressed with the choice of neon letters and the clock that even was true to the period. I'm always a fan of authenticity, even when it's contrived. This is contrived, and in the best way: to look like it was always there.

Oh, and why was in Marine Industrial Park? I was treated to a tour of the USS Kearsarge, which is docked in Boston Harbor as part of Harborfest. It is open to the public, and is one of the navy's largest ships -- second to aircraft carriers. It was a great experience.


Graffiti of a different kind

I visited Medford Square on Friday and parked in the Governor's Avenue parking lot. On my way back to my car, I noticed someone had painted the word "Schlong" on the pavement in the same type of blue paint a public water department would use to mark underground pipes.


The flying footie

Traffic wasn't as bad as I thought it would be as I headed south on Route 3 on Friday. I only got hung up a couple of times. Once at the split in Braintree and once again at Union Street.

The ride was actually so relaxing for the driver of this Chevy Suburban that he was able to kick back and hang his bare foot out the window while he was driving. I've seen this before, obviously mostly in the summer. I've never tried this as a driver. I've done it as a passenger, but found it wasn't all that comfortable. I can't imagine how it would be comfortable to drive like this. Or safe, for that matter.