BOSTON (AP) – Crews finished repairs on a problematic ceiling panel, and also began installing barriers on a Big Dig onramp, as the state readied Thursday to reopen the eastbound Ted Williams Tunnel in the aftermath of a ceiling collapse that killed a woman.

The opening would provide the first measure of relief for South Shore residents who have been denied a direct route to Logan International Airport since the July 10 accident. It also would relieve some of the traffic congestion that has built in downtown Boston and on North Shore airport approaches as drivers have sought alternate routes.

Once it is allowed, traffic will flow over surface roads in South Boston to Ramp A, an on-ramp that will funnel them into the Interstate 90 eastbound connector tunnel – where the accident occurred – and then onto the airport via the Ted Williams Tunnel.

Final approval of the repairs, however, rested with officials at the Federal Highway Administration, according to Jonathan Carlisle, spokesman for the state Executive Office of Transportation.

Even Gov. Mitt Romney, who has been overseeing tunnel inspections in the aftermath of the accident, refused to speculate when the approval would be received, although he was optimistic it would be soon.

The governor told reporters that he intended to inspect the tunnels himself when they were near completion. He declined to speculate when the roads would reopen.

In anticipation of receiving federal approval to reopen, crews began installing concrete jersey barriers at the bottom of Ramp A, so traffic will be funneled from the ramp and past the accident site, before being allowed to flow into the full width of the Ted Williams eastbound tunnel.

It could be months before all the repairs are completed and the roadways fully reopened to traffic.

The governor said he spoke Thursday morning with Maria Cino, the acting U.S. Transportation secretary to update her on the process.

“We’re working very closely and moving as aggressively as we can with keeping the interest of safety uppermost in all of our minds,” Romney said.

AP-ES-08-03-06 1705EDT

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