Feds, Conn. AG Probing I-84 Highway Construction Defects

October 3, 2006

Federal investigators are looking into why hundreds of storm drains are defective in a $52 million improvement project on Interstate 84 in the Waterbury, Conn. area, The Hartford Courant reported Sunday.

Fixing the problems could cost the state millions of dollars and require newly paved parts of the highway to be torn up, the newspaper reported, citing state documents and people familiar with the project.

Also, Conn. Attorney General Richard Blumenthal has confirmed that he is conducting an ongoing investigation in cooperation with the state Department of Transportation of problems in the I-84 project. Blumenthal said his investigation began several months ago as a result of apparent failures in quality and timeliness of work done by various contractors. He said his probe would “support claims for monetary recovery and other remedies as appropriate.”

The project under scrutiny involves a 31/2-mile section of the highway between I-691 in Cheshire and Exit 25-A in Waterbury.

Authorities with the FBI and other federal agencies are investigating the problems, which could also add months to a project that was supposed to be completed a year ago.

Many of the drains lead nowhere, some are clogged with debris and others were apparently connected with substandard, cracked and leaking pipes, the newspaper reported.

In a memo written two weeks ago, a top DOT engineer blamed the defective drains on a “complete breakdown” in the inspection process.

“The numerous types of deficiencies, the particular as well as the general defects and omissions in the work, were and are stunning,” Arthur W. Gruhn, chief engineer at the DOT’s bureau of engineering and highway operations, wrote in the memo.

Gruhn said last week that it remains a mystery why the work is shoddy and why the inspection process failed.

“We may never know what was in somebody’s mind as they were doing this,” Gruhn said. “It just is so far beyond the norm that appropriate action had to be taken.”

The DOT on Sept. 16 fired New Britain-based The Maguire Group Inc., which had the $6 million contract to inspect work on the project. The company that had the $52 million contract to rebuild the highway, L.G. DeFelice Inc. of North Haven, went out of business after last year’s construction season, citing financial reasons.

The drains, also known as catch basins, and related underground piping are designed to remove water from the roadway. Gruhn said improper drainage can create a hazard for motorists and damage roads through erosion and other forces.

The highway project includes about 300 catch basins. Inspectors have taken another look at about 280 of them, and all but 10 need additional work, Gruhn said. As many as 100 of the drains will require major reconstruction, Gruhn said, including some that are below new pavement.

Gruhn said there was no estimate yet on how much it will cost to fix the problems, but he said it could cost more than the liability insurance coverage provided by the contractors.

No one has stepped forward to accept responsibility for the problems. Nothing has been found to suggest DOT workers were partly to blame, Gruhn said.

A former vice president at DeFelice who ran the now-defunct company’s cost department said he was not aware of the drainage problems.

“As far as I know, the work was installed correctly and it was inspected,” said Stephen Hallberg.

Other representatives of DeFelice could not be reached for comment.

The Maguire Group is not conceding it was responsible, but a lawyer for the company said it intends to help the state correct any problems.

“Obviously we are in the process of reviewing the findings of the Department of Transportation,” attorney Richard R. Brown said. “We absolutely want to cooperate in terms of correcting the situation at no expense to the state of Connecticut.”

The DOT has clashed with The Maguire Group in the past. In 1992, then-DOT Commissioner Emil H. Frankel cited Maguire’s “serious disregard for standards of professional ethics” in suspending the company for two years from doing work for the Transportation Department.

Topics Construction Connecticut

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