Boston Central Artery Project: $190M Video System has No Videos of Accident

A local Boston television station reported that the $190 MILLION tunnel video system for the Big Dig has NO footage of the accident that resulted in a 3 ton slab of concrete landing on a vehicle and killing a passenger Sunday night.
Could that be true? Maybe. The turnpike authority, under direction of Matt Amorello, cleared the fallen slab and several others that were also fallen or precariously dangling extremely quickly before any other footag or pictures could be taken. Rescuers who were trying in vain to save the woman who was killed risked their own lives to work while another 3 ton slab dangled over their heads. Naturally there is no video or photos of any of this. It's pretty clear that Amorello didn't want anyone to get the chance to take photos either. The Boston Herald had a cover photo taken by a passing motorist with his cellphone before he called 911.
So why could the $190 million camera system not have any pictures? Amorello said that there was nobody to press the button to record the scene.
The TV station is reporting that apparently the Turnpike Authority spent $190 million but didn't get the $300,000 digital video recording system.
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John S wrote:

Because this so called "Intelligent Highway System" doesn't work now, nor has it ever worked properly. Many of the cameras throughout the tunnels are covered with plastic, pointed toward the wall, or otherwise obviously not working. The system of green/yellow arrows and red Xs above each lane only partially works in some areas. The variable message boards inside the tunnels seldom display anything more useful than "test".
This lucrative contract was awarded to Honeywell, a company known for those ubiquitous, round thermostats containing toxic mercury, and who is also a major defense contractor. It ran way behind schedule, and went way over budget, largely because of "software problems". As with other problematic contractors, BigDig officials claimed they were the only company qualified to complete the job.
Ultimately, the system was still not working, even after everything else was completed. Officials at the time said that the system of cameras, sensors and message boards was so important to tunnel safety, that the opening of the road (and it was this exact section, I believe) was delayed for weeks until Honeywell could supposedly get it together.

Elmer
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Elmer wrote:

True. Of course even when I've seen lanes with Xs, cars just kept driving merrily along in that lane. Naturally there didn't appear to be any reason for the lane to be closed though.

Just about every thermostat manufactured by anyone contained mercury. (The alternative was bimetallic strips which are nowhere near as precise, and today digital thermostats have become popular.) But how is that relevant here?

They do lots of things, including manufacturing jet engines. So?

You know lots of companies have worked on this project that are renowned for excellent products elsewhere. But on the Big Dig, everything turns to crap. A very peculiar pattern.
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John S wrote:

The mercury in thermostats was not used for temperature sensing. The "classic" Honeywell thermostats used a bimetallic strip curled into a coil. The two different metals in the strip expand and contract in response to temperature changes at different rates from each other, causing a rotation of the coil.
Attached to the coil is a small, sealed glass bulb with two contacts at one end. There's a small ball of liquid mercury in the glass bulb which closes the circuit between the contacts when it is tipped towards that direction. The rotation of the coil happens very slowly as the temperature changes, but once it reaches a certain point, gravity causes the mercury to roll to the opposite end of the glass bulb all at once. This achieves a quick on-off transition that minimizes arcing or bouncing.
The set point was adjusted by simply rotating the bimetallic coil so that the transition occured at a different temperature. It was an elegantly simple, very reliable design which became the industry standard for residental and commercial use for many years. The environmental dangers of mercury have become more apparent in recent times. In service, they pose no hazard, but items like this must be recycled in a mercury specific program, and not disposed of into regular trash.
Alternatives to using mercury in thermostats involved some other mechanical design that would provide a "snap-action" transition from on to off at the desired temperature. Mercury was only appropriate for low voltage, low current switching. Any line voltage thermostat would use a mechanical contact closure. An alternative to using bimetallic strips is a gas filled bellows which expands and contracts in response to temperature changes.
Other companies besides Honeywell used mercury in their thermostats in both bimetallic and gas bellows designs, but the mercury was still only used for switching, and not for temperature sensing. Today, solid state temperature sensors have made bimetallic and gas bellows designs obsolete, and other electronic components perform the switching function instead of mercury.
My reason for mentioning Honeywell thermostats in the first place was because they're a very common household product that almost everyone's familiar with. It was an excellent product for it's day (although that was fifty years ago).
Elmer
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Elmer wrote:
> The

Haven't the dangers or mercury been known for a long time? There is the Mad Hatter in Alice in Wonderland. Hatters were mad because they were exposed to mercury vapor in making hats and suffered neurological damage.
John Mara
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John Mara wrote:

The direct exposure to mercury, yes. But people did not think about what happened when products containing mercury were thrown in the trash. Mercury pollution from landfills and incinerators is now known to be a significant problem and only recently have mercury specific recycling programs been implemented.
Elmer
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My father used mercury when making fillings for teeth. I think I expressed interest, or maybe he knew it would be interesting, so he gave me maybe 4 cubic centimeters of it when I was 6, but I have to admit, I've never found a use for it (except watching it). I think I got another 4cc when he died 2 years later. I'm 59 now, and have moved about 6 times, but the mercury has only had to move 4 times in all these years. I keep saving it for a special occasion. Like repairing mercury switches, but it was easier to buy another switch, or use the ones built into car trunk and hood lights.

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Take it to any big building you want to shut down. Like a school or government office. Drop it on the floor and start yelling Mercury, Mercury!
Al
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