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Water leaks vex Boston's Big Dig

BOSTON, July 24 (UPI) -- The top engineer for Boston's Big Dig says water leaks are becoming a relentless threat to the massive transportation project.

An internal report from engineer Helmut Ernst obtained by The Boston Globe said water has caused millions of dollars in damages and has corroded electrical systems and girders.

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"Tunnel leaks are a more vexing problem as they are widespread throughout the tunnel and are the cause of safety concerns and (have) a damaging effect on the tunnel structure and equipment,'' Ernst said in the report, which the Globe said was intended as a briefing for a new state transportation official.

Ernst did not say the 7 1/2-mile tunnel was currently unsafe; however he warned officials that water leaks were a serious concern. He said the concerns were illustrated by last month's collapse of a 110-pound light fixture in the O'Neill Tunnel that was caused by corrosion.

The Globe said Ernst's report was condensed by the new Massachusetts highway administrator, Frank DePaola, prior to a briefing of the transportation board's directors earlier this month. DePaola told the newspaper the report was shortened for clarity and not because he wanted to soft-pedal the problem.

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"I stick by my words that the tunnels are safe. It's not an urgent problem,'' said DePaola. "We are dealing with it. It's costing a lot of money.''

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