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Corrosion Stirs Removal of Tunnel Panels

Friday, January 4, 2013

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Scores of 100-pound coated metal panels have been removed from two Boston tunnels after one broke from its frame and fell, authorities say.

The two tunnels will be receiving more frequent inspections in the wake of the accident, in which the panel's  fasteners and bolts apparently corroded and failed.

No one was injured and no vehicles were damaged when the panel fell Dec. 21, but the incident tied up tunnel traffic for several hours. Three other panels were immediately removed.

Inspection and Removal

The enamel-coated metal panel—one of 2,800 in the Callahan Tunnel—came loose after the frame holding it up became corroded. After the slab fell, safety officials from the Massachusetts Department of Transportation closed the tunnel and pulled on each slab, removing those that were loose.

On Dec. 30, MassDOT closed the parallel Sumner Tunnel to test its 2,400 interior panels.

Highway officials ended up removing 117 loose panels from the Callahan Tunnel and 26 from the Sumner Tunnel after performing the "pull test," in which they pulled on them from the top and the bottom to see if they were loose.

State highway officials now say they plan to re-inspect the Callahan quarterly and the Sumner Tunnel twice a year until permanent repairs are made. Previously, the panels were inspected just once a year.

MassDOT

Officials plan to increase inspections in two Boston tunnels after an enamel-coated metal slab fell from this area of the Callahan Tunnel.

“If it moved in the slightest, it was removed,” said Sara Lavoie, MassDOT spokeswoman.

Public Reassurance

MassDOT sought to reassure Boston's driving public—no strangers to tunnel mishaps, fatal and otherwise—that the situation was safe.

“We’re confident that the remaining wall panels are firmly secured, and we feel that no one should have any concerns about the safety of those panels going forward,” Frank DePaola, highway administrator for MassDOT, said at a recent news conference.

The enamel-coated metal panels are four by nine feet and weigh about 100 pounds. Not only are these panels decorative and easier to clean than the tunnel walls, but they are also reflective and improve the lighting in the tunnel, DePaola said.

CBS / WBZ

Officials are considering replacing the corroding fasteners, possibly with lighter fiberglass slats. The top photo shows a corroded fastener displayed by MassDOT; the bottom is one in good condition.

Officials displayed some of the corroded frames and bolts at the news conference and noted that the frames are made of galvanized metal and the bolts are stainless steel.

They said it was possible that there was some kind of reaction due to the different kinds of metal, but that much of the problem was likely due to age and moisture.

Different Findings

The weakened bolting systems in the Sumner were not found in clusters but throughout the mile-long tunnel. More advanced deterioration was seen in the Callahan, with rusting extending to the framework that holds the panels in place.

“Overall, the condition of the wall panels in the Sumner is much better than what we found in the Callahan,” said DePaola.

Officials say that a new system for attaching the wall panels needs to be devised eventually to prevent the problem from happening again. Designers are looking to replace the existing fastening system used in both tunnels with one that would hold up better under the elements. They are also looking into using lighter fiberglass slats.

The Callahan panels were installed in 1990; seven years later Sumner's were installed. Officials said repairs to Sumner could be deferred up to five years because the lining was newer and in better condition.

Future Work

A March inspection is planned in the Callahan Tunnel, and the full replacement will include resurfacing two lanes.

MassDOT is working to schedule a full renovation of the Callahan tunnel, which will cost up to $12 million. The state hopes to seek bids in June and start work in January 2014, said Frank DePaola, highway administrator for MassDOT.

“We want to bring everything up to a state of good repair for the Commonwealth and for the citizens that use our transportation network,” DePaola said.

“We are filing a bill with the Legislature in the next two weeks, which will propose the amount of funding that we think over the next 10-year period we need to address a lot of the outstanding infrastructure investments that we need to do.”

   

Tagged categories: Bridges; Concrete defects; Corrosion; DOT; Tunnel

Comment from Tom Schwerdt, (1/4/2013, 8:59 AM)

Yet another anchorage problem with Boston tunnels - at least these lasted a little bit longer, though I still consider it a premature failure.


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