Case Study of the Big Dig in Boston

The Central Artery/Tunnel Project, known unofficially as the Big Dig, in Boston was the most expensive highway project in the U. S. and consisted of countless errors. The project had errors throughout the plan and design that lead to escalating costs, scheduling overruns, leaks, design flaws, poor execution, substandard materials and even four deaths. The Central Artery/Tunnel Project (also known as the ‘Big Dig’) was a scheme to rebuild Boston’s elevated Central Artery expressway, which cut through the city center, in order to eliminate this disturbing element and relieve the persistent traffic problems in the center of the city.

The expressway has been replaced with an underground road. The project was too extensive to describe all the details here. It was basically composed of many subprojects: a downtown tunnel, a connecting cable-stayed bridge, and two consecutive tunnels under the harbor to the airport and many additional subsidiary sections. The tunnels had to weave between many existing structures, both above and below ground. It took about fifteen years to build all the sections, demolish the old structure and restore the surface, predominantly with parks.

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The project initially began planning in 1970 and didn’t conclude until December 31, 2007. Prior to the start of construction, the project client – Massachusetts’ Department of Public Works on behalf of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts (owner) – had been downsized and was not equipped to manage the whole project by itself. The Department therefore hired a large project management joint venture as a consultant to draw up preliminary designs and oversee implementation.

This structure meant that the management consultant was to supervise the contractors and designers, while the Department of Public Works was to oversee the project management consultant. During the work, subcontractors filed a large number of claims and changes with the project management. In many contract areas, deviate site conditions occurred and during implementation many minor design changes had to be made that led to changes in contracts. All these claims and changes piled up at the project management’s office. Many of these necessary changes are said to have been the result of flawed designs by the management consultant.

However, because the management of the Department of Public Works did not have the same level of expertise as the management consultant, the Department depended heavily on the consultants and could not make independent assessments of whether the numerous claims for changes resulted from flawed work or were simply an unavoidable effect of building a very complex technical structure in a densely built-up landfill area while the old structure that had to remain open during the work. In the meantime, costs escalated massively during construction. This was partly caused by inflation, but also by the numerous changes made.

The mounting cost overruns and awkward decision-making processes encouraged the project owner to reconsider its project organization. The owner established an Integrated Project Organization (IPO). Previously, many positions had been held by employees of both his client organization and the management consultant. Under the IPO, however, the most qualified person would remain and the redundant position was scrapped. In this way, the two organizations were integrated. The owner hoped to move the managers of the client organization closer to the information resources, but in practice this impeded oversight even further.

It saved on costs but also removed the checks and balances within the project organization. Considering that the hired project management consultant was paid on a cost-plus-fee basis, its interests did not always correspond to those of the owner. As a result, it has been difficult, if not impossible, to assess whether the hired project managers did a good job. After the new system had been opened, some serious flaws were revealed. The tunnel under the downtown area was riddled with leaks requiring extensive repairs which may need to continue indefinitely.

In addition to the use of inferior concrete, for which one supplier was prosecuted, the interfaces between several subsystems, such as that between slurry wall panels and between the slurry walls and the ceiling, also proved vulnerable. Moreover, a drop-ceiling in the connector tunnel on the I-90 route between downtown and the harbor tunnel collapsed, crushing a car and killing one passenger. The design for these drop-ceilings had been changed during the construction work because they were found to be vulnerable to strong vibrations. The new eilings were heavier, but the outer tunnel shell to which they had to be riveted did not include steel beams capable of bearing heavy loads. According to the specifications, the chosen bolt-and-epoxy fixture should have been capable of bearing the weight, but this fixture required a very careful installation process. The work process had become much more vulnerable to failure. Although the cause of the incident has not been established unequivocally, forensic research has led to the conclusion that unrecorded deviance during the installation process probably caused the fixtures to give way.

Bechtel/Parsons Brinckerhoff, the main decision maker and a for profit organization, was in control of the project using head project manager, C. Matthew Wiley to run and overlook the whole Big Dig project. Wiley was to overlook everything from the engineers and contractors, down to the actual construction. His job also included resolving any problems that arose during the constructing phase of the project. As lives were taken and costs escalated, obviously Wiley didn’t completely pull his own weight as there were many unresolved problems that later rose to the surface.

As to describe the project’s failure according to the Scott Berkun’s interdisciplinary view in Chapter 3 of his book, Making Things Happen, I solely believe that each aspect of business, technology, and customer all were failed immaturely during this mega project (Berkun, 2008). The business aspect failed with a poor business strategy and a very underdeveloped timeframe. Talk about terrible planning, According to the Boston Globe, Bechtel failed to depict the 19,600-seat arena in its preliminary designs, which were completed in October 1994, and instead showed an obstacle-free area for contractors to lay utility lines (Lewis, & Murphy, 2008).

For the technology side of the view, the project after completion worked fine to ease the traffic from all the congestion. To bad Bechtel forgot to test everything before allowing the highways and tunnels to be used and the death of Milena Del Valle. This relates exactly to the customer aspect of the interdisciplinary view as there were plenty of complaints after the project due to the many leaks, the falling concrete ceiling, and huge light fixture found in the middle of the highway. Many of the above problems occurred from poorly defined project requirements and could’ve been avoidable.

To minimize these problems, the project team should’ve, very descriptively, documented exactly what the project was to do. Being more descriptive of the requirements established, would’ve better aligned them with the business goals. The project more than likely could have optimized there human resources better may have had opportunities to complete there endeavors as scheduled. Lastly it would have been best if Bechtel verified the customer’s needs had been implemented and thoroughly tested before opening the highways and tunnels to the public.

There were many successes in the project and even more failures, but moving on and learning from those mistakes will always create a superior project manager. Reference page Berkun, S (2008). Making things happen: Mastering project management. Sebastopol, CA: O’Reilly Media. Lewis, R. , & Murphy, S. (2008, February 09). Why bechtel never paid for its big dig mistakes. The Boston Globe. Retrieved from http://www. boston. com/globe/metro/packages/bechtel/