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    Posted May 21, 2012 by
    Farmersburg, Indiana
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    Romney and the Big Dig - Mixed Reviews


    The  Big Dig, the Massachusetts boondoggle and bottomless money pit, was  conceived in the 1970s by the Boston Transportation Review. The project  officially began in 1982 and ended December 31, 2007 when the contract  ended between the program manager and the Massachusetts Turnpike  Authority. The original completion date was to have been in 1998.

    The  Big Dig was the most expensive highway project in US history. Taxpayers  will continue to pay on the project through 2038. The original cost  estimate was $2.8 billion, but as of 2006 had cost $14.6 billion.


    Then we have what happened in the last year of Governor Mitt Romney's term in office - a tragic, fatal tunnel collapse.

    Mitt  Romney was at his New Hampshire vacation home on a summer night in 2006  when 26 tons of concrete ceiling panels in one of Boston's Big Dig  highway tunnels collapsed, crushing a car and killing a female  passenger.

    Romney, then in his final year as Massachusetts  governor, dashed back to Boston and immersed himself in the crisis.  Wearing a hard hat, orange safety vest and jeans, the usually  buttoned-down Republican seemed to relish the role of the hands-on chief  executive tackling a public emergency before television news cameras.

    The  Big Dig collapse offers insights into the kind of leader the expected  Republican nominee would be if elected president. Romney has made his  management skills a major selling point in his presidential campaign.

    Yet his stiffest leadership test as governor produced mixed results.

    Romney  was praised, even by some Democrats, for his energetic, take-charge  management style. But he also drew criticism for playing to the media  and dodging personal blame.

    Later, however, it was Romney who was  faulted for not taking stronger action to fix the problem-plagued Big  Dig well before the collapse.

    "He was all sizzle and no steak," said former Massachusetts governor Michael Dukakis, the 1988 Democratic presidential nominee.

    His  administration bungled one response to the collapse by hiring Big Dig  project manager Bechtel/Parsons Brinckerhoff to inspect the ceiling  repairs. Bechtel oversaw construction of the tunnel, so giving it the  job of judging its own work created a conflict of interest; Romney later  admitted it was a mistake. Bechtel at the time was a focus of state and  federal investigations into the collapse.

    For that foul-up,  Romney blamed his transportation secretary, prompting a sarcastic swipe  in a Boston Herald editorial: "If there's glory to be gained in handling  a crisis, count on Gov. Mitt Romney to show up in person to grab it. If  there is blame to be swallowed, well, isn't that what subordinates are  for?"

    Romney, too, had ignored warnings from state Sen. Marc  Pacheco, chairman of a legislative oversight panel, that Bechtel  officials were too cozy with turnpike authority officials overseeing the  project. Pacheco had urged Romney to suspend Bechtel. Federal  investigators later found that the lack of a tunnel inspection program  contributed to the fatal accident.

    "It was essentially the proverbial fox guarding the chickens," said Pacheco, a Democrat. "It continued under Romney's watch."

    The  accident was a prime opportunity for former businessman Romney to  showcase his management skills. He was facing criticism for ignoring the  state's needs with his growing schedule of out-of-state travels as he  prepped for an expected White House run in 2008.

    Romney wasn't  shy about stepping before the TV cameras to reassure a jittery public.  He prowled the cavernous Big Dig tunnels flanked by engineers and  investigators. At times he sounded more like an engineer than a  politician as he explained details of the collapse in televised news  conferences.

    It was a chance to burnish his credentials as a  turnaround artist. As a venture capitalist, Mitt Romney retooled  struggling companies and made a fortune. In Salt Lake City, he turned  around the scandal-plagued 2002 Winter Olympics and used the experience  as a springboard to the Massachusetts governorship.

    Days after  the collapse, Romney persuaded the Democratic-controlled Legislature to  approve emergency legislation giving him the power to oversee  inspections and final authority on reopening the tunnels. He also  ordered a "stem to stern" review of the project.

    "His leadership  was impressive," said former state Sen. Steven Baddour, a Democrat who  was co-chair of the Joint Committee on Transportation. "You could  criticize him on the issues. But when it comes to the management of a  crisis, that's his wheelhouse."

    Baddour recalled being summoned  to a briefing in Romney's office shortly after the accident. He expected  to find a room crowded with engineers and other officials. Instead he  was alone with Romney, whose grasp of the accident and engineering  details impressed Baddour.

    Romney's prime target was Amorello, whom he had long accused of mismanaging the turnpike authority and the Big Dig.

    Romney  had previously tried to force Amorello out, but was rebuffed in court.  Amorello was finally ousted after the tragedy, with pressure from Romney  and others intensifying.


    From  the Cornfield, how much of an insight does this provide as to how a  President Romney will govern or react in the event of a disaster or  other emergency?

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