Top Big Dig Engineer Fired After Light Collapses

By Sarah Birnbaum

Aug. 2, 2011

BOSTON — One of the top highway engineers at the Massachusetts Department of Transportation was fired on Tuesday following remarks he made about safety concerns. 

Helmut Ernst was suspended last month after being quoted in a Boston Globe article about corrosion in Big Dig Tunnel light fixtures. Ernst told the paper that he and other engineers weren't being trained to document safety problems in the tunnel out of fear of lawsuits.

A corroded 110-pound light fixture crashed inside the Big Dig tunnel in early February. No one was injured, but the incident prompted a system-wide inspection that revealed more corroded fixtures.
Massachusetts Transportation Secretary Jeffrey Mullan says an investigation he launched has concluded and no one else faces disciplinary action. Mullan won’t say exactly why Ernst was being fired, but that the culture of coverup Ernst described doesn’t exist.

“You know, I think anyone who has watched the Department of Transportation over the last couple of years knows that we made tremendous, tremendous efforts to be completely transparent, but I don’t really want to elaborate on that because I want to respect Helmut’s privacy rights,” Mullan said.

For his part, Ernst says no one at the Department of Transportation notified him that he was fired and that he learned about it from media reports.

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