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Big Dig Concrete Failing 20 Years Early

Friday, June 8, 2012

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Concrete that was supposed to last 30 years on Boston’s “Big Dig” project is crumbling after just nine years and may cost $1 million to repair or replace, the state’s top highway official says.

“If I was in charge of the project at that time, we would not have used that material,” says Massachusetts highway administrator Frank DePaola.

The top layer of concrete is cracked and is separating from the structural slab below on sloped areas, leading to a large number of potholes, officials said. Repair crews can no longer keep up.

“That material” is concrete, chosen by the Bechtel/Parsons Brinckerhoff team, which has been implicated in numerous other structural problems with the $15 billion project.

Cracks and Potholes

DePaola says an asphalt mixture would have stood up better to the project’s heavy traffic and punishing New England winters.

As it is, concrete road surfaces in the Central Artery tunnels are crumbling and sprouting potholes, DePaola told the Massachusetts Department of Transportation board at a meeting Wednesday (June 6).

Pavement is cracking, and the two-inch top concrete layer is separating from the structural slab underneath on ramps, tunnel openings and other areas where the highway has a steep slope, leading to a large number of potholes, he said.

“They recommended it on the steep slopes because they thought it would be more durable,’’ DePaola told the board.

According to a MassDOT document:  “It was expected that the concrete pavement would have lasted up to 30 years but is showing signs of failure after just about nine years.”

Phase I: $200K

The problems do not affect the structural integrity of the tunnels and roadways, DePaola said. But maintenance crews can no longer keep up with the potholes, and a new approach is in order.

The “number and frequency [of repairs] now justifies the complete removal of the concrete pavement in this area and replacement with a Hot Mix Asphalt pavement," DePaola told the board.

Hardest hit is a 600-foot-long section of northbound Interstate 93 coming off the O’Neill Tunnel to the Leonard P. Zakim Bunker Hill Memorial Bridge.

That area will be resurfaced beginning June 16 at a cost of about $200,000, DePaola said.

However, he added, inspections have turned up other problem areas that will also need repairs, and the total tab is likely to top $1 million by the time the work is complete next year.

‘Long-Term Solution’

"We need to make these repairs now to keep the roadways safe and in good repair,” he said. “This maintenance work will provide a long-term solution to the pavement issue and prevent damage to vehicles from potholes and concrete debris.”

If the problem is found to have resulted from defective work or specification, the state will ask the Federal Highway Administration to fund remaining repairs from the Central Artery Trust Fund, the Associated Press reported.

That fund was established in 2008 as part of $450 million settlement of a lawsuit brought by the state against Big Dig contractors. The Bechtel/Parsons team, a consortium that oversaw design and construction of the project, paid $407 million of the fund.

The settlement headed off criminal charges and civil liability stemming from a variety of problems on the project, including a ceiling collapse that killed a motorist.

‘Unfortunate Symptom’

In April, the MassDOT board learned that it would cost $54 million to replace more than 25,000 light fixtures in the project tunnels. Paint on the lights is failing, leading to corrosion that has already caused one eight-foot fixture to fall and smash on the roadway below.

Said DePaola: “It’s an unfortunate symptom of this project that some of the finishes were possibly not done at as high a quality as they could have been.”


Tagged categories: Asphalt; Concrete; Concrete defects; Construction; Cracking; Roads/Highways; Tunnel

Comment from sasha bacic, (6/11/2012, 9:04 AM)

I'm amazed that such things happens in a country leader in technology, research and knowledge. Is it due to the self satisfaction? Is it due to excessive confidence? Nothing is never acquired, you should always ask yourself : "what if it goes wrong?" Lack of critical analysis is the most probable source of future troubles.

Comment from Kishore Kumar K R, (6/12/2012, 4:35 AM)

we do no wrong and we know all attitude

Comment from Tom Schwerdt, (6/12/2012, 8:21 AM)

I'm puzzled by the claim that HMA will last longer than properly designed and installed concrete.

Comment from John Fauth, (6/12/2012, 2:42 PM)

Does anyone else get the impression that other relevant facts have been omitted, or have yet to be discovered?

Comment from Tom Schwerdt, (6/13/2012, 9:04 AM)

$2.8B cost estimate. $14.6B actually billed by the time the shoddy, late product was finally delivered. This is the largest example of a union-only construction project I am aware of.

Comment from James Johnson, (6/13/2012, 12:54 PM)

With the growing list of failures one can only guess what is next. We could all toss $5 in a pool and each guess at the next failure...whoever is closest would get the pot be rich for a day! With the existing history it only makes sense that the problems are not over. Only a 12B cost over run huh? Some of us could have guessed that too.

Comment from Tom Schwerdt, (6/14/2012, 8:33 AM)

Well, once they pay the interest and finance charges, it's more like $22B they will actually pay.

Comment from Raymond Merrill, (6/15/2012, 7:10 PM)

I fail to see what all the fuss is about. After all, it's only taxpayer money. And as any "public servant" from the great Commonwealth of Taxachusetts will tell you, the taxpayer is an inexhaustible source of funds, so what's the big deal? If the "rich" were required to pay their "fair share", these cost overruns would just be a drop in the bucket, right?

Comment from shane hirvi, (6/18/2012, 3:51 AM)

As the threads on these boards progress towards political one-liners and fluff I find them less and less interesting.

Comment from James Johnson, (6/19/2012, 2:37 PM)

Shane from time to time we have to lighten up a bit or become totally depressed. Politics enters every phase of everyone's life, from the gas and groceries we buy to who is awarded contracts to industry association documents. Politics has led to huge increases in project costs and has contributed to failures. Stop and think, with no pilitical interference and with no government regulations to deal with, they built the 900 mile long Alcan highway in 6 MONTHS! It was built over some of the worst and toughest terrain on the continent. It crossed rivers, swamps and marshes and even arctic tundra. The environment was not ruined and was not permanently negatively impacted. Yes, it was only gravel, and portions still are, but that 900 mile long road was built for a cost less than a single modern freeway interchange. When we compare where we were then versus where we are today, are we better off? The reason it takes so much longer and costs so much more now is politics and I seriously doubt we are better off if one considers the price we pay daily.

Comment from Tom Schwerdt, (6/20/2012, 12:37 PM)

It's really optimistic to call the Alcan a "highway" - lots of it is worse than the low-end county roads we have around here.

Comment from shane hirvi, (6/20/2012, 2:03 PM)

James, there is a difference between engaging in a substantive conversation/debate and trolling. I read your post and found myself agreeing with everything other than your first sentence. I am a pretty light hearted guy and try not to take myself too seriously--though tinged with a little bit of ego. I take no exception to a conversation, be it heated or otherwise, that is substantive--whether that conversation involves politics or not is irrelevant. I am all for an all out debate of politics, political discourse and rhetoric most days of the week but only if is a real substantive debate without resorting to one-liners and fluff-as I have little patience or respect for the argument of children, the uneducated or trolls. Speaking of the Alcan; when I was 19, about 17 years ago now, me and my brother and a couple of friends drove a 1972 AMC Hornet from Highpoint, NC to Valdez, Alaska to work in a fish cannery. We drove the Alcan, at a top speed of 60 mph, with our mismatched tires humming loudly and with a Campbell’s soup can wired around our exhaust pipe to lessen the noise coming from the rusted out pipe. We had to stop periodically to eat some soup, as our soup can could only endure the heat from the exhaust for so long, to avoid any unpleasantness from the local authorities who found the noise, emanating from the hornet, objectionable and wire another can onto the pipe. Thank you for bringing back that memory. I am keenly aware of the role politics plays in our everyday lives even though it be burdensome and unwieldy. Were we better off in the 50's? I cannot believe so--but then each generation harkens back to a time when they feel the country was at its brightest. I wasn't born until the 70's so I really don’t know how great things were prior to that. The technological advances that have arisen from the American political system are without question some of the greatest contributions to humankind ever. Our constitution and bill of rights were, and continue to be, a political awakening that continue to be the benchmark for ensuring freedom and liberty to each and every man, woman and child in every country in the world. These documents and ensured that we Americans are entitled to rights and freedoms never before seen in the world. Does that mean that these people were without flaw? We all know that isn’t true they had slaves and endeavored to stamp out the Indians as though they were not men but rather an animal to be tamed or destroyed when they could not be tamed. We all have rose colored glasses about things like my little trip up the Alcan in the hornet I loved it and harken back to a time in my life where everything was easy and good.

Comment from shane hirvi, (6/20/2012, 3:13 PM)

Most of the things that we take for granted like our transportation systems, computers, the internet, our satellite communication systems, radar, sonar, GPS, missile systems, and the most sophisticated military systems in the world are a result of the government of the United States of America--to name but a few. Taxes blow, regulations blow, governments blow, being stuck on a roadway in down town San Antonio blows but they are all kind of needed, to a greater or lesser degree obviously, but the fact remains that they are still needed. The giant slow machine that government is will not be going anywhere or changing, in any remarkable manner, based upon the outcome of the next election and it will certainly not change the manner in which large construction projects are administered. In the founding of this nation, and the years that followed, slavery was a fact of doing business, wiping out the Indians was manifest destiny, women were not educated and couldn’t vote, workers had no rights, blacks and whites peed in different toilets and rode in different seats, think about that for a second will you? I don't know about y'all but I sure as heck(I understand removing the other ones but not this one) am glad that I live in this country at this time when all we have to complain about is how much things cost instead of wondering if some upstanding member of my community is going to burn a cross in my yard because a couple of the guys from work that I had some beers with were black. Lighten up James it could be a whole lot worse than it is--we could be paying people less based on their race and segregating them. Oh, incidentally I think that the black service members on the Alcan received considerably less pay and their camps were not nearly as well outfitted as those of their white counterparts. I hope that those aren't the types of cost over runs that you think we can do without. Can you imagine that today? Having a segregated workforce who recieve substantially less pay, rights, ppe, etc because of their race, gender, or any other human condition. I'll gladly take the way things are today because I'll never have to tell my grandchildren "oh well that's the way things were done back then." I submit that we are better off now, because as stupid as it is, I can freely pee alongside a person of color and neither one of us will be in fear for our lives. The times of which you speak saw many great things were done and they may have been done cheaply but there are other costs that we as a nation are still paying for.

Comment from shane hirvi, (6/20/2012, 3:39 PM)

James, I mean you no disrespect to you Im just pointing out that government projects have never really been great. I know that you don't support the segregation or anything like that--I was just making a point.

Comment from peter gibson, (12/31/2012, 12:01 PM)

Shane Your mindless meanderings and musings are not useful to the discourse.Go use your words to write another book for Amazon.

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