BOSTON Peter Zuk, director of the Central Artery/Third Harbor Tunnel project, is considering changing the terms of the agreement between Massachusetts and Bechtel Corp., the project's lead engineering ruth.

Cost overruns and continued delays in meeting deadlines have forced the state to reevaluate the way that Bechtel is being compensated, Zuk said last week.

The project, which is one of the largest construction projects in the United States, is designed to lessen the traffic problems in downtown Boston and create a link between the roads around the city and the Massachusetts Turnpike.

Bechtel, in partnership with Parsons Brinkerhoff Inc., has acted as the management team for all of the project's engineering and construction work.

Until now, the two companies have been paid for the amount of work that has been done during a given year about $160 million per year in fees alone. The contract between the state and the firms includes neither a deadline for project completion nor a cap on the fees that can be paid to the firms.

Since the project began in 1985, the estimated cost has increased to almost $8 billion from $2.2 billion. The estimated year of completion has been moved out to 2004 from 1998. However, the Third Harbor Tunnel is scheduled to be opened to taxis and buses in November 1995 and for all other vehicles in 2000.

The state is now looking into setting a firm limit On how much it is willing to pay the companies for their services, Zuk said. As it is now, the companies will receive between $1.5 billion and $2 billion in fees by the time the project is completed.

Bechtel and Parsons Brinkerhoff have been under fire all year because of the' project's growing costs. Earlier this month, a report warned that poor soil quality at the Fort Point Channel could increase project costs by $200 million and tack two additional years on to the project,

The Fort Point Channel, near Boston's South Station, is an important link between the Central Artery and the Massachusetts Turnpike, and construction of the Fort Point Tunnel underneath the channel is to be particularly tricky. The tunnel will be built below the bed of the channel but above a tunnel used by the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority's Red Line.

Because of this double-decking, the stability of the soil is considered vitally important to the successful completion of the project. Bechtel and Parsons Brinkerhoff recently took soil samples along the bottom of the channel at 300-foot intervals, and the results were reportedly disappointing.

Then last week, Bechtel received some negative press when the Boston Globe reported that Bechtel consultant Peter Berlandi used his influence as a longtime friend and political ally of Gov. William F. Weld to withhold information about the results of the soil-quality tests. Officials in the Weld Administration said the Globe's story is not true.

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