Local News

Lapsed warranty will likely cost DOT millions to fix I-795

Posted January 9, 2009 6:15 p.m. EST
Updated July 16, 2009 3:32 p.m. EDT

— At least one state lawmaker says a lack of accountability is to blame for a bad paving job along 18 miles of Interstate 795, which could cost the state millions of dollars to repave.

The North Carolina Department of Transportation said Thursday it could cost anywhere from $14 million to $22 million to fix the stretch of road running from Wilson to Goldsboro, which started cracking 16 months after the project was complete.  A report from the Federal Highway Administration partly blames air pockets in two hot-mix asphalt layers for the problems.

"The person responsible should be fired," Sen. Neal Hunt, R-Wake, who sits on the Joint Legislative Transportation Oversight Committee, said Friday. "Bottom line – if he made a $20 million boo boo, he needs to be terminated, but you can't find out who it is (because no one person is responsible). That's the problem."

Another part of Hunt's concern is that the DOT discovered the problem four months after its 12-month warranty on the $120 million highway expired.

DOT is already paying the contractor, Wilson-based S.T. Wooten, nearly $500,000 to repair a number of large cracks and potholes along the interstate, and officials say it is likely the state will also be responsible for paying the company to repave the rest of the roadway.

Victor Barbour, the DOT's administrator for technical services, which oversees contracts, said the agency didn’t purchase an extended warranty because of the cost increase that would have been associated with the project.

But Hunt believes extended warranties are worth the investment.

"To me, it's a no-brainer, absolutely," he said. "If a private business were doing this, they would not pay the bill until they were sure it was right. Period."

Hunt wants to know why history seems to be repeating itself.

In 2007, the DOT spent about $22 million to repave a 10.6-mile stretch of Interstate 40 in Durham after finding that expansion joints were improperly constructed when new concrete was laid on top of the old during a widening project.

DOT engineers began noticing problems with it before the project was finished, and it hired the same contractor to fix it, because under state law, the lowest qualified bidder must be awarded the contract.

Bruce Dillard, the DOT's inspector general, whose job is to promote accountability and efficiency and minimize fraud, waste and abuse, said Friday his office has no intention of auditing the I-795 project. He declined to comment further as to why.

DOT says it is too premature to say whether the department will revisit its warranty policy.

"I think we'll do an evaluation process and determine what direction we need to take with regard to the warrant," Barbour said.