Watch For Falling Concrete

Filed in Local News by on September 19, 2009 0 Comments

What the hell is wrong with Boston’s bridges? In the past week, two separate stories within the usually sparse category of “Stuff Falling from Overpasses onto Cars” have grabbed headlines in the city.

The major story, as you might expect, involves the legal case over the fatal collapse of a Big Dig tunnel three years ago in which a faulty superglue made by Powers Inc., a New York based epoxy manufacturer, allowed ceiling panels in the tunnel to plummet onto traffic. The company has now agreed to pay $100,000 to settle Federal charges stemming from the accident. According to the Boston Globe, Powers Inc. will plead guilty to one count of making a false statement in connection with a federal highway project, resulting in the fine and a probationary period for the manufacturer. The deal must still be approved by the U.S. District Court in Boston, where the case was brought.

Longfellow Bridge

Longfellow Bridge

The fine is a pittance. The Globe even notes that it is a “relatively modest” sum. Yet it is not as if Powers Inc. is escaping total financial liability; the company also agreed to pay $16 million last December to settle charges in Massachusetts and Boston over the incident, as well as $6 million in a wrongful death suit brought by the family of the woman killed in the collapse.

In a statement released after the announcement of the deal Jeffrey Powers, president of the company that bears his name, offered up a qualified, non apologetic mea culpa for the accident, writing that his company was guilty only of a “technical charge involving a ‘false statement’ by omission.” Powers added that the settlement, “confirms that no individual Powers employee, past or present, engaged in any knowing misconduct.”

While prosecutors maintain that Powers Inc. knew the glue was faulty based on the company’s own tests, Powers, the man, contends the main contractor for the project purchased the epoxy after consulting an older product brochure that did not mention that the quick drying epoxy was also quick to fail.

Though Powers’ contention is iffy it does not eliminate his company’s culpability—by his own admission another employee of his company told the state the epoxy wouldn’t hold before construction on the ceiling began. At best, the company is guilty of incompetence, and at worst it is guilty of what could have been and ultimately did become a fatal disaster. Mr. Powers can spin the case however he wants, but, even with state manslaughter charges dropped in exchange for the $16 million settlement, he and his company are still responsible for the death of Milena Del Valle, the Jamaica Plain woman crushed by the tons of poorly secured concrete.

The other big news in crumbling infrastructure comes out of Allston, where chunks of concrete fell from the Cambridge Street overpass onto the Mass Pike, shattering a woman’s windshield. Thankfully, the woman only suffered minor injuries in the accident.

Yet the bigger concern is that in response to the incident, the bridge has been outfitted with a patch kit of sorts—wooden planks have been attached to the bottom of the bridge to catch any more debris.

A full review of the bridge’s structural integrity will not take place until November, and repairs would not be made until 2011 at the earliest. The city says the bridge is safe for now and is still solid despite the missing concrete.

It would be impossible to avoid driving under any bridges if you commute to the city, so for now, the best you can do is drive safely and stay alert. If you see something falling at your car, chances are it isn’t just a meddlesome teen’s loogie.

Longfellow Bridge Photo credit: jwardell

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