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I-Team: Officials Were Warned About Big Dig Light Corrosion

By Kathy Curran, WBZ-TV I-Team
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A light similar to this fell within the tunnels of the Big Dig. (credit: Kate Merrill/CBS)

A light similar to this fell within the tunnels of the Big Dig. (credit: Kate Merrill/CBS)

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BOSTON (CBS) – The I-Team has gone through hundreds of internal emails from the Department of Transportation that were exchanged during the weeks after a massive lighting fixture crashed down on the center lane of the tunnel back in February.

And we’ve discovered top state officials were warned of the problem even earlier than their own investigation revealed.

The lighting in the Big Dig Tunnels was a safety hazard dangling over drivers that was known by state officials for weeks before they told the public there was any problem. An eight-foot, 110 pound fixture came crashing down in the center lane of the northbound tunnel on February 8.

WBZ-TV I-Team’s Kathy Curran reports

But the public wasn’t warned about the corroding lights until five weeks later.

Transportation Secretary Jeff Mullan admitted back then it was a communications failure.

The I-Team has obtained 445 pages of internal emails from the Dept. of Transportation. And it appears the communication failure was even worse than state officials said.

Secretary Mullan was told about inspections of the lights on March 1.

In one email he’s asked, “Were you finally briefed on this? It’s potentially a big deal.”

The Secretary wasn’t fully briefed about the light that had crashed onto the road until a week later. But the I-Team has discovered this email was sitting in Mullan’s inbox all along.

On February 28, inspector Carmen Ciampi tells Jeff Mullan in a “friendly reminder” that the light fixtures are corroding and falling on to the roadway while hundreds of thousand of motorists drive through the Tunnel Systems.

Ciampi also writes that they’re still dealing with major leaking, that in time will corrode the structural beams supporting the roof in the O’Neil Tunnel.

There was a flurry of emails that lasted for weeks until state officials finally told the public.

On the morning of the official announcement Secretary Mullan had a question for acting highway administrator Frank Tramontozzi. “I have to ask what we have been doing for 6 weeks?”

Tramontozzi ended up resigning. And when we asked a Department of Transportation spokesperson about the communication breakdown, we were told Secretary Mullan never saw the February 28 email from inspector Carmen Ciampi warning him of the falling light fixture and the corrosion problems.

He also said this administration inherited the problem of the leaks. They’re well documented and the department continues to manage them.

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