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National Highway Traffic Safety Administration- Boston Big Dig Disaster

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Most people remember July 10, 2006 as just another regular day in their lives. As for Angel Del Valle it was the day that he lost his most pride possession in life, his wife. While they were coming through the new section of the connector tunnel from Boston heading towards the Ted Williams Tunnel the ceiling from above collapsed and immediately killed Milena Del Valle who was driving at the time.

“At least 12 tons of concrete fell from the ceiling of one of Boston's Big Dig tunnels, crushing a woman in a car and again raising concerns about the integrity of the massive highway project that is the central artery through the city, A steel tieback that held a 40-foot ceiling section over Interstate 90 eastbound gave way late Monday night in the tunnel, a main access way to Boston's Logan International Airport. The tunnel was closed indefinitely as crews worked to remove about 30 ceiling slabs in a 200-foot section where the collapse occurred, Authority Chairman Matthew Amorello said Tuesday. Milena Delvalle, 38, of Boston's Jamaica Plain section, was pronounced dead at the scene. Angel Delvalle, 46, managed to crawl out a window of their crushed car with less than a foot of clearance and suffered minor injuries, according to State Police. Their car was partially crushed under at least four ceiling panels, each weighing 3 tons. The vehicle was in the left lane, giving the driver's side more protection as panels came to rest also on a left-side service walkway that is elevated several feet above the road. Milena Delvalle was a native of Costa Rica, and the two were newlyweds. They were on the way to the airport to pick up his brother and sister in law, who had been vacationing in his native Puerto Rico. We feel awful about what happened last night," Amorello said. "It's an awful, awful tragedy. This is an awful situation that occurred." Amorello appointed a state police major, two outside consultants and a team from the Federal Highway Administration to assist in the investigation.

The accident happened near the entrance to the Ted Williams Tunnel, which goes under the Boston Harbor to the airport. He said he had ordered a precautionary inspection of the Williams Tunnel, which has similar tiebacks but a different ceiling structure. Amorello also said that tiebacks similar to the one that failed were used in 17 spots on the Interstate 90 section of the Big Dig project, and all those were being checked. "I don't think anyone can feel the tunnels are safe, given what happened this morning," Gov. Mitt Romney told a New England Cable News reporter after touring the accident site. Amorello said he hoped the eastbound side of the closed tunnel could be reopened by midday Wednesday. "Any responsible party will be held accountable for what happened," Amorello said. "This is an unacceptable, horrible tragedy." The accident caused huge traffic problems, with backups of several miles on many roadways into the city. Motorists trying to get to and from the airport were particularly affected. Traffic headed east to Logan was detoured through the Callahan Tunnel, and westbound traffic exiting the Ted Williams Tunnel was detoured through the city's South Boston neighborhood. The ceiling panels were erected in 1999 and the contractor was Modern Continental, Amorello said. In that section, the tiebacks are bolted to a concrete ceiling. Above it is an industrial area of South Boston home to the Boston Convention Center and the World Trade Center. Modern Continental and a spokesman for project manager Bechtel/Parsons Brinckerhoff did not respond to calls for comment Tuesday. The $14.6 billion Big Dig highway project, which buried Interstate 93 beneath downtown and extended the Turnpike to the airport, has been criticized for construction problems and cost overruns that state officials have said did not compromise safety. There have been water leaks in parts of the tunnel system and at least one incident when smaller amounts of dirt and debris from an airshaft in another section of the tunnel system fell onto travel lanes, causing minor damage to cars.

In May, prosecutors charged six current and former employees of a concrete supplier with fraud for allegedly concealing that some concrete delivered to the Big Dig was not freshly mixed. State and federal officials said that long-term maintenance, not immediate safety, was the likely impact. Amorello said preliminary investigation shows that the quality of the concrete was not to blame for the fatal accident Monday night. Boston Mayor Tom Menino called for a third-party investigation and quick answers to restore confidence in people traveling in Boston. "We don't need a six-month study. We need an immediate reaction and action by the different authorities so that we can reassure the public as they drive into the city or drive over to the airport that the tunnel is safe to go through," he said Christy Mihos, an independent candidate for governor and former member of the Turnpike Authority Board and agency critic, called the accident "my worst nightmare come true." He renewed his call for the attorney general to immediately

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