Recriminations over botched I-40 construction continue today, featured in a good story in the News and Observer by Bruce Siceloff. I've read Bruce's stuff for years, and have found him to be a reliably straight-shooter.
A yearlong internal review at the state Department of Transportation sheds light on far-reaching failures that came together in an $18.6 million blunder on Interstate 40 in Durham County: Next year 10.6 miles of crumbling concrete will be ripped out and replaced with asphalt. The paving was botched because DOT engineers gave faulty instructions to the contractor. The new DOT study, summarized in a 67-page report, tracks their costly mistake through several years and across many desks at the state's road-building agency.
With many millions of dollars on the line, you can imagine that the Blame Game has shifted into high gear. There are basically four players who bear responsibility.
First, of course, is NCDOT. They apparently screwed up big-time in writing the specifications for the project, and are now having an internal witch hunt. Second is the Federal Highway Administration. Third is HNTB, an engineering consultant that supplied inspectors. And fourth is Granite Construction Co., the company that actually did the work.
So imagine my surprise when someone involved actually said, "It's our fault." That someone was:
John A. Sullivan III, who heads the Federal Highway Administration's North Carolina office, said his agency was at fault for failing to make sure the DOT handled the I-40 project properly. "We were in position to catch the missing [expansion joint] detail, but we didn't," Sullivan said.
But if you think that kind of stand for accountability extends beyond Mr. Sullivan, you are sadly mistaken. For all the vaunted praise free-market fundamentalists put on the meritocracy of the marketplace, you'll find not a trace of responsibility for this disaster among the people who actually put the concrete in place.
Last week, Tippett told legislators that much of the blame was shared by Granite Construction, the Federal Highway Administration and HNTB, an engineering consultant that supplied construction inspectors for several Triangle projects in a five-year, $13 million DOT contract. The federal agency paid about 80 percent of the original project cost and has agreed to cover a similar share of the new repair bill.
And then this:
Granite said it did the work according to the DOT's plans and instructions. The contractor agreed to make urgently needed repairs to the worst-damaged areas -- the work is expected to end this weekend -- while lawyers for both sides worked out the finances. A settlement agreement signed in October by the DOT and Granite killed any chance that taxpayers might avoid paying the bulk of the repair bill. Granite continued to deny responsibility for the damage but agreed to absorb the $3 million cost of its repairs through the end of this year. The DOT agreed that Granite did not owe a nickel toward the repairs next year or in the future.
The other private enterprise involved, the engineering consulting firm named HNTB, also denied responsibility for the concrete failure.
They said their employees based their work on the project plans, which left out details about cutting the expansion joints. "Our technicians were not in a position to second-guess or overrule the plans and specifications," said Henry V. Liles Jr., vice president of HNTB North Carolina, in an interview. " ... I told them that I did not see where we had any responsibility for the mistakes out there."
Our technicians were not in a position to second-guess or overrule? Well just what the hell were We the People paying your technicians to do, Mr. Liles? This is the "free-market" that wackos on the right want us to turn our government over to. I'll grant you there's plenty of incompetence on all sides of this, but at least the public servants aren't enriching themselves while they dodge accountability.
PS If you want to catch the "Ironies of the Week," click on the Granite Construction website and laugh at the opening words: We build character. You'll also get a kick out of all the yapping about integrity on the HNTB website.