Boston fears becoming the 'New Atlantis' as Big Dig springs a leak

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The Independent US

This is a time of pride for the city of Boston. Its beloved Red Sox baseball team has overcome its curse of almost a century to win the World Series and residents were celebrating the miracle of a 20-year public works project, known as the Big Dig, to tunnel miles of interstate highways beneath the city.

This is a time of pride for the city of Boston. Its beloved Red Sox baseball team has overcome its curse of almost a century to win the World Series and residents were celebrating the miracle of a 20-year public works project, known as the Big Dig, to tunnel miles of interstate highways beneath the city.

But where the Big Dig is concerned, celebration has turned to consternation and embarrassment. On 15 September, one of the main tunnels through town sprung a leak, spewing thousands of gallons of water on to the roadway and temporarily closing it.

And now the leaks keep on coming. According to local news reports, as many as 400 leaks have been discovered since mid-September, some tiny but some far more serious, as well as hundreds of other cracks and fissures in the concrete lining of the tunnels, which are more than 7.8 miles long.

The debacle threatens serious political fall-out for city and state officials. Hearings are scheduled in the Massachusetts legislature to find out what went wrong and who is to blame, and there is even talk of an inquiry by a committee of the US Congress in Washington DC. The Big Dig, the biggest public works project in the country, has been beset by problems from the start. In 1985, the city assigned it $2.5bn (£1.3bn) and said it would be done in five years. The goal was tantalising.

The ugly, elevated highways that separated most of the city from the harbour would be gone and in their place would be a ribbon of new parks. By 2000, the price tag had hit $10bn and the final tally is now $14.6bn.

Now there comes the prospect that fixing the leaks will take several more years and will absorb even more public money. Governor Mitt Romney is calling for resignations in the Turnpike Authority that oversaw the project, and in turn, the authority is pointing the finger at the main contractors involved, Bechtel/Parsons Brinkerhoff.

The tunnels and spans that make up the Big Dig, including a new tunnel to Logan Airport, are still open, but drivers are growing nervous.

Margery Eagan, a columnist for the Boston Herald, has advised commuters "to start stuffing flippers and snorkels in the minivan". And she added: "We're only one gusher away from The New Atlantis."

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