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Project on Government Oversight




POGO Reports Revisited: Boston Harbor Tunnel Project

March 1, 2003 


In 1995, POGO unearthed flagrant abuses at Boston's "Big Dig," detailed in our report "No Light At the End Of This Tunnel: Boston's Central Artery/Third Harbor Tunnel Project." The most expensive highway project in U.S. history, project costs have spiraled out of control from $2.3 billion to $14.5 billion - a 600% cost overrun and a six year schedule lag. In 1995, due in part to POGO's effort, Congress put a stop to a $700 million appropriation to cover some of the overruns.

POGO found that the U.S. Department of Transportation, which funded 85% of this boondoggle, saw itself as a rubber stamp rather than an overseer. Our investigation showed that the project was laden with conflicts of interest, mismanagement and an extraordinary lack of oversight by this federal agency. For example, POGO uncovered that the federal government bought properties for tens of millions of dollars over their value - only later to admit they never needed some of these properties in the first place. In a particularly telling turn, POGO was required to correspond with the contractor, Bechtel/Parsons Brinkerhoff, for Freedom of Information Act requests rather than with the government. At the time POGO investigated this project, few outside the Boston area were aware of this growing fiscal disaster. It is now a well-known national embarrassment.

It was with this experience in mind that POGO recently launched an investigation into the use of interstate highway tollbooth revenues. Provisions in interstate compacts passed by Congress allow states to use tolls for economic development. Already, we have discovered a criminal investigation into various local officials' use of toll money to pay for lavish trips to Paris. As a result of POGO's investigation into toll roads, the Department of Transportation Inspector General began an investigation into the abuse of toll revenues. The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee is planning hearings in the Spring as the Congress considers reauthorization of federal transportation legislation.

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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