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Big Dig firm lands airport project

Hiring of Parsons Brinckerhoff is assailed by critics

By Jenifer B. McKim and Casey Ross
Globe Staff / November 21, 2008
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The Massport board yesterday approved a $30 million contract with Parsons Brinckerhoff Americas to design and manage construction of a Logan Airport parking complex, prompting criticism from those who said the state should not do business with a company that paid millions of dollars to settle complaints about its work on the Big Dig.

Parsons Brinckerhoff was part of a consortium that oversaw design and construction of the $15 billion Big Dig tunnel project, which was plagued by cost overruns, leaks, and a 2006 ceiling collapse that killed a Jamaica Plain woman.

"There is absolutely no excuse to do business with the major culprits with this disaster," said state Senator Mark Montigny, a New Bedford Democrat and part of a group lawmakers who unsuccessfully tried to bar Parsons Brinckerhoff from ever doing work in the state again. "Fifteen billion dollars and loss of life ought to be enough to convince any management or board that you don't do business with the devil. There are companies all over this country dying to do business here."

Parsons Brinckerhoff officials declined to comment on the contract and referred questions to the Massachusetts Port Authority.

Massport officials defended their selection, saying the company designed and oversaw the expansion of Logan's central garage, a 2004 project that was completed under budget and ahead of schedule.

Matthew Brelis, Massport spokesman, said Parsons Brinckerhoff did not submit the lowest bid, but it made the strongest presentation and had the best overall team to lead the $377 million parking project. Its plan was chosen from at least five proposals considered by a committee of six outside professionals and five Massport officials, Brelis said.

Services covered under the contract include preliminary and final design, and management of construction, Massport said.

"It's a completely different set of engineers" from the company's Big Dig team, Brelis said. "If we didn't hire any company that did work on the Big Dig, more than 80 percent of the companies that do design work and construction could never get a job here."

The five-level parking facility, scheduled to be completed in 2012, is intended to consolidate the airport's eight rental companies at one location, reducing the need for shuttle buses and cutting down on road congestion and air pollution. The garage will include 3,800 parking spots for rental cars and 1,900 commercial parking spots.

Anatoly Darov, president of the Boston Society of Civil Engineers, said the $30 million design fee is typical for a project as large as the parking complex. He added that construction planning near Logan is especially complicated because of congestion and the airport's proximity to East Boston neighborhoods.

"There's a ton of traffic and logistical issues to manage on such a cramped site," Darov said.

In January, Parsons Brinckerhoff and a group of other companies involved in Big Dig design and construction agreed to pay $458 million to settle an inquiry into the ceiling collapse that killed Milena Del Valle.

Christy Mihos, a former Massachusetts Turnpike Authority board member, said he was "stunned" to learn that Parsons Brinckerhoff has been hired by Massport. The Turnpike Authority was in charge of the Big Dig and operates the tunnel system.

"Past is prologue," Mihos said. "I know for a fact we still have a system and a tunnel system that has systematic problems."

Senator Bruce Tarr, a Gloucester Republican, questioned why the bidding process didn't take into consideration the problems that occurred at the Big Dig.

"They were charged with oversight and preventing cost overruns and clearly did not succeed," Tarr said.

Senator Steven Baddour, a Democrat from Methuen, said that while he was disappointed by the decision, Parsons Brinckerhoff can legally work in the state. But he added, "I hope that Massport pays more attention to their oversight role of Parsons Brinckerhoff than the Turnpike Authority did during the years of the Big Dig."

Jenifer McKim can be reached at jmckim@globe.com. Casey Ross can be reached at cross@globe.com.

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