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Project on Government Oversight




Report Update: No Light At The End Of This Tunnel: Boston's Central Artery/Third Harbor Tunnel Project

February 27, 1996 


On February 20, 1995 the Project on Government Oversight (POGO) released NO LIGHT AT THE END OF THIS TUNNEL: Boston's Central Artery/Third Harbor Tunnel Project. This report provoked Congressional awareness, an ongoing investigation by the General Accounting Office (GAO), initiated by Representative Frank R. Wolf (R-VA), as well as other government investigations.

Recently the Massachusetts Highway Department hired two consulting firms, for a reported $1 million, to evaluate the Central Artery/Third Harbor Tunnel project's (Project) progress. They came to the same conclusions that POGO and others have stated for over a year. While the consultants have finished their report, Massachusetts has yet to release it publicly. According to a December 12, 1995 Boston Globe article, mismanagement by the Massachusetts Highway Department and the primary contractor, Bechtel/Parsons Brinckerhoff, is the reason for the Project's escalating cost and six year delay, citing "lack of experience" and "allowing costs to spiral needlessly", respectively. According to the article, the consultant's report criticizes all parties from top to bottom, including Massachusetts' project manager, Peter Zuk. However, these consultants have performed the Federal Highway Administration's job as overseer of Massachusetts and Bechtel/Parsons Brinckerhoff.

In December 1995, Congress convened a Conference Committee to reach agreement on language for a national highway system that, among other things, would have allowed the Project to use federal funds for sections that are ineligible for federal participation. There was an effort to strike twenty-five words from a 1987 amendment to the Federal Highway Act. If stricken, sections of the Project that would not have qualified for federal money, would, as a result have received federal money -- an additional $700 million. After POGO circulated a letter to all Conference Committee members alerting them to the Project's many problems, and reminding them that in 1987 Congress had rejected federal funding for the section in question, the proposal was defeated. While the defeat of this particular proposal is an accomplishment in attempting to corral the Project's runaway costs, the Project and Massachusetts remain eligible for billions of dollars worth of additional federal funding.

On September 13, 1995 an article appeared in the Boston Herald confirming POGO's discovery of a conflict-of-interest -- Massachusetts state employees, including those with oversight responsibilities, are being paid by the project's prime contractor Bechtel/Parsons. Three Massachusetts' state agencies, the Attorney General, the State Auditor, and the Inspector General, recommended "that the Massachusetts Highway Department 'abandon' the practice of funding state positions through its management contract with Bechtel/Parsons." The article also stated, "eight top managers paid by Big Dig [Central Artery/Third Harbor Tunnel] manager Bechtel/Parsons Brinckerhoff are subject to Ethics Commission conflict-of-interest laws."

Also, a GAO report released in June 1995 found that the Central Artery/Third Harbor Tunnel project could reach $10.6 billion -- $1 billion more than estimates reported by POGO and over four times the original $2.6 billion price tag. The GAO also found "that Massachusetts potentially faces a federal funding shortfall of as much as $2.4 billion from September 1998 through 2004."

The lack of federal oversight over Massachusetts and Bechtel/Parsons is one of the many reasons this project has persistent problems. Merely signing forms and approving waivers does not constitute proper oversight by the federal government, who is responsible for 85-90% of the projects' costs. On numerous occasions government projects have escalated many times over their original cost and been delayed many years due to "unforeseen circumstances". The Central Artery/Third Harbor Tunnel project has emerged as one such project -- it has quadrupled in cost and is six years behind schedule. After years of pouring money into this project, the time has come for Congress to take responsibility for keeping this project on time and on budget.

Founded in 1981, the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) is a nonpartisan independent watchdog that champions good government reforms. POGO's investigations into corruption, misconduct, and conflicts of interest achieve a more effective, accountable, open, and ethical federal government.

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