Entire DOT Budget to Take the Hit for Botched I-40 Paving

Budget negotiators working on the 2007-08 spending plan say DOT's central budget pool, not just the Triangle's Division 5, should pay the $21 million repaving bill.

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RALEIGH, N.C. — It’s been a question almost as steamy as the new asphalt being laid on Interstate 40 through Durham County this summer. Who should pay the price for fixing the botched concrete job?

Triangle representatives have said the state should spread the cost statewide.

Some from other areas have said that since the blacktop is being spread here, it's the Triangle's problem –  specifically the Department of Transportation’s Highway Division 5, based in Durham and covering the Triangle.

Everyone agreed on the cost: $21 million. But from whose pocketbook?

The Legislature decided.

“The $21 million was approved in both the House and the Senate budget(s) to come out of DOT administrative expenses, as opposed to Division 5. That's a good thing for us. The money is coming in from statewide, not just the fifth highway district,” said Sen. Neal Hunt, R-Wake.

Pulling all $21 million out of Division 5 could have delayed projects like the I-85 overhaul through Henderson and the next leg of Wake Forest's N.C. 98 Bypass.

So, Triangle legislators are pleased, and local NCDOT engineers are happy, but spreading the bill statewide still has to pass the budget conference committee that’s trying to work out the 2007-08 state spending package.

“I think that will fly,” said Rep. Jim Crawford, D-Granville, a member of the conference committee, though he said he has heard from opponents who wanted the Triangle office of NCDOT to foot the bill.

“Naturally, there were some saying it's the Triangle's problem — you keep it in your district — but we feel it's a statewide problem,” Crawford said.

An NCDOT spokesman won't comment on pending legislation, but $21 million will put a strain on the administrative budget.

“But this is absolutely fair. The mistake was made by DOT personnel. There's no sense making just our district pay for it,” Hunt said.

The NCDOT has litigation pending against an engineering contractor that it says bears some of the blame for the botched job. Others involved have agreed to put up some of the cost.

What happened was that concrete was laid without appropriate expansion joints being cut deep enough to allow for the pavement to expand in summer heat and contract in winter cold. Concrete seems unmoving to human eyes, but it does change.

The I-40 pavement began to crack up shortly after it was laid.