DOT gets earful on I-40 repair costs

Legislators say Triangle road projects should not be jeopardized as a result

Staff WriterNovember 15, 2006 

Triangle residents should not get stuck with the cost of $18.6 million in repairs to fix paving mistakes on a state Department of Transportation project to widen Interstate 40 in Durham County, two Wake legislators told state transportation officials Tuesday.

"It looks like a fairly monumental problem, and it seems like the [state] system ought to absorb that," said Sen. Richard Stevens, a Cary Republican. "Local folks did not cause the problem. They ought not to be penalized on their other highway projects."

Stevens spoke at a legislative committee meeting at which Lyndo Tippett, state transportation secretary, blamed mistakes by unnamed DOT employees, contractors and the Federal Highway Administration for the deterioration of concrete pavement on 10.6 miles of I-40.

Tippett said that repairs planned next year would normally be counted as a cost overrun on the I-40 project, with the money subtracted from future state and federal allocations for Triangle road improvements.

But he told Stevens that the state Board of Transportation would discuss whether to treat the I-40 repairs differently. When the issue was raised last year, board members from other parts of the state said in interviews that the Triangle should bear the expense.

The I-40 problem began with DOT's failure to include correct paving instructions in project design plans and contracts. DOT engineers did not specify the need for cutting expansion joints all the way through the top 3-inch layer of concrete. The pavement began breaking up last summer because the joints were not cut correctly.

"I still don't understand why it happened," Stevens said after Tippett's presentation. "I'm not an engineer, but I know enough about concrete that you put joints in it occasionally."

Tippett, appointed by Gov. Mike Easley, a Democrat, said he accepted responsibility for the problem. He said he was working to minimize state costs and to prevent similar problems in the future.

"The governor and I ... will deal with the issues," Tippett said. "We will provide accountability." A spokesman said Tippett would announce disciplinary actions against some employees later this week.

Tippett should fire the senior employee responsible for overlooking the crucial joint-cutting instructions, said Sen. Neal Hunt, a Raleigh Republican who serves with Stevens on a joint House-Senate committee that oversees DOT.

"I don't want some lower mid-level type guy to go," Hunt said in an interview. "Whoever's at the top echelon that approved this plan should be terminated."

The general contractor is completing $3 million in pavement repairs at its own expense, and Tippett said he hoped to recover some costs from an engineering firm hired by DOT to inspect the construction work.

"The bottom line is that the taxpayers are paying for the balance of it," Hunt said.

Staff writer Bruce Siceloff can be reached at 829-4527 or bruce.siceloff@newsobserver.com.

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