UDOT fines contractor $3M as lawmakers push to finish late project
Utah County legislators pushed the Utah Department of Transportation on Wednesday to turn up the heat on a contractor to finish a $166.4 million project to widen the Timpanogos Highway between Lehi and Highland which was supposed to be completed nearly seven months ago.
"We ought to put the screws on them," Rep. Craig Frank, R-Pleasant Grove, said at a meeting of the Legislature's Transportation Interim Committee, as UDOT was outlining its construction plans for the summer.
Randy Park, UDOT project development director, said his agency has been charging the contractor Flatiron/Harper Joint Venture $15,000 a day since the SR-92 project officially became past due on Oct. 21. As of Wednesday, it was 208 days late with UDOT charges totalling $3.12 million so far and counting. The money has been deducted from monthly billings by the contractor.
Park said delays result from UDOT forcing the contractor to fix many "quality issues."
"There's been a lot of problems with many components of the project, everywhere from pavement to drainage systems to bridge structures" that did not meet state specifications, Park told The Tribune.
He said the contractor has had to remove and replace, at its expense, many sections that had problems. Park said the five-lane main section of the road is now open to traffic. But express lanes that bypass traffic signals are still closed, Park said, "because problems there have not been corrected."
Flatiron was part of a consortium that was paid $13 million by UDOT in 2010 when it complained it was cheated out of a $1.1 billion contract to rebuild I-15 in Utah County. That project went to another consortium which had made big contributions to Gov. Gary Herbert after UDOT tweaked original scoring of bid proposals.
Park did not have a good answer Wednesday for a legislator who wanted to know when the project will be finished.
"So far, what we've got from our contractor are dates that they never meet. So we are being very cautious right now in giving anybody a date," Park told the committee but added that he hopes the project will be finished by mid-summer.
Park said in an interview later, " We're now working with the contractor and going through his scheduling in great detail. â¦ The problem we have is that this is a design-build contract, and so we have to be very cautious about what our liability and responsibilities are given the contract language."
Frank complained that it doesn't look like any work is happening on the road at the moment, and worries that perhaps the contractor and state may be posturing more for lawsuits than completing the project.
"I drove on that road on my way into the Capitol today. They are moving cones around to make it look like they are still working on the road, but that's all," Frank said. "I'm also concerned about the design-build system that they've created there, too. ...It's kind of an odd design. We're all waiting for the population to fill in around it so we can know what they are trying to do. We're confused."
Park said no legal claims or lawsuits have been filed over the project so far, but the contractor has requested change orders to allow it more time and money than original contracts provided. The contractor did not immediately return phones calls or an email from The Tribune seeking comment.
Rep. Ken Sumsion, R-American Fork, added that residents are asking him repeatedly what is happening with the road, and said he would like to see UDOT apply pressure to get things moving.
Park assured the committee that, despite the delays and problems, the final result will be top notch.
"We will have a very quality product, and the public will get exactly what they paid for," he said. "The most important thing for us is to get the job done and have the public using it. We want to get people on the express lanes as soon as possible."