• 9 Investigates: I-77 toll lane reported issues increased by hundreds since 2015

    By: Joe Bruno , Kristin Leigh

    Updated:

    CHARLOTTE, N.C. - There has been an exponential growth in reported issues with the Interstate 77 toll lane construction since October 2015.  

    Some might think that issues during construction would decrease over time, but since 2015, the reported issues on the I-77 toll lane construction has increased by hundreds. 

    Three of Charlotte's major highways have huge road projects underway.

    The future toll lanes from Charlotte to Lake Norman on I-77, the widening in Cabarrus and Rowan counties on I-85 and the Monroe Expressway in Union County being built off U.S. 74 have all caused headaches for drivers.

    [PAST COVERAGE: Business owners concerned about loss of business when Monroe bypass opens]

    Last week, Eyewitness News reporter Joe Bruno initially dug into each project to see which one is giving North Carolina’s Department of Transportation the most issues.

    Chanel 9 looked at liquidated damages--which are fines-- to the three projects, and of the three, the Monroe expressway had the most.


    First Breakdown of liquidated damages:

    • Monroe Expressway: 14
    • I-77 tolls: 10
    • I-85 widening: 8

    Bruno also learned there is a huge difference between the three projects when it comes to the amounts of the fines.


    Breakdown of fine amounts:

    • I-77 tolls: $5,342,500
    • Monroe Expressway: $135,900
    • I-85 widening: $54,500

    State Rep. Chaz Beasley said he is not surprised by the numbers.

    “The fact that the I-77 toll project has had $5 million in fines shows that they are not doing a good enough job watching out for what's going on on these roads,” said Beasley.

    The fines for all three projects mainly stem from lane and ramp closure violations, like not having them open when they are supposed to be.

    [PAST COVERAGE: Residents' input requested for bypass in Union County]

    “You hear about flooding during rainstorms, you hear about items being left on the roads, that's unacceptable,” Beasley said.

    Some of the improper closures have been more high-profile than others, like the incident last August when a truck drove into a bridge with its bed up.

    [GALLERY: Dump truck hits bridge on I-77]

    “Makes you wonder: If they already had $5 million in fines, what hasn't been caught?” said Beasley.

    Michelle Ferlauto is the head of the Lake Norman Regional Safety Partnership and a toll opponent. 


    Channel 9's past coverage on I-77 construction zone issues:


    Ferlauto requested I-77's nonconformance log, which is a record that tracks quality issues, and shared hundreds of documents with Channel 9.

    The log revealed 457 issues with the I-77 toll lanes project from October 2015 to March 2018.

    "The sheer vast number of them is disconcerting," Ferlauto said.

    The state later sent Ferlauto the log of issues for the rest of 2018.

    Monday, Eyewitness News Anchor Kristin Leigh dug through the logs to find a total of 866 issues have been reported. 

    NCDOT said the state hired eight additional staff members to monitor construction quality on the toll project, and stressed that safety is a top priority.   

    "Drivers should know the department is monitoring this project closely to ensure work is completed to the highest standard, following required safety guidelines," NCDOT Spokesperson Jen Thompson said. "This process shows how closely we are monitoring the work being performed, in conjunction with I-77 Mobility Partners and the developer’s quality team."


     

    Breakdown of nonconformance log issues:

    • Erosion control not sufficient and rain runoff got past erosion control measures onto I85 S. A repetitive problem.
    • Asphalt cores outside ½ thickness tolerance. Required thickness 2.5”
    • Newly constructed pipes are not aligned properly
    • Newly constructed pipe has a hole in it
    • Permanent concrete barrier does not follow the lines and grades as shown in plans. Does not meet the department’s expectations of workmanship
    • Several areas on bridge 111W were detected to have lack of concrete vibration effort and lack of concrete consolidation which have created air pockets
    • A subcontractor hit the underside of a flyover bridge. Dump truck’s bed was left up in position
    • Concrete barrier removed, crane exposed to traffic  
    • Unapproved concrete used for a barrier wall
    • A hole was left unprotected, resulting in a fall hazard
    •  Honeycombing observed at the bottom of a bridge
    •  honeycombing observed at the bottom of a column of a bridge

    “The sheer, vast number of them is disconcerting,” said Ferlauto.

    A spokesperson for Sugar Creek Construction, the private company building the I-77 toll lanes, said the outstanding issues will be resolved.

    “A large number of NCRs demonstrates an effective quality system is in place which ensures that the final product conforms with the overall design and engineering standards set by NCDOT,” Heather DeLapp of Sugar Creek Construction said. “Sugar Creek Construction is committed to the safety of drivers and all workers in the construction zone.”

    A spokesperson for NCDOT said while 457 may seem like a large number, many of the items are minor. The spokesperson could not say whether 457 issues is consistent with other NCDOT projects, because this is the only project where this nonconformance process is used with the contractor also providing inspection staff.

    “On other projects, the department is responsible for identifying and ensuring that any deficiencies are corrected by the contractor,” NCDOT spokesperson Jen Thompson said. “The department is then responsible for maintenance following a warranty period, which is typically one year. On the I-77 Express Lanes project, the developer’s quality team, including Sugar Creek Construction and a private engineering firm hired exclusively for quality control, identifies the areas of non-conformance. The developer is then responsible for correcting any deficiencies, as well as maintenance over the next 50 years.”

    [PAST COVERAGE: Nearly 1,800 crashes reported in I-77 construction zone since work began]

    Thompson said the issues do not have to be resolved before the project opens as long as they do not impact driver safety. Thompson said the nonconformance issues did not play a role in the project’s delayed full opening.

    The developer said the I-77 project will be fully operational by fall 2019.

    Beasley said safety and oversight are important. “No matter if it is the first day, first year or first 50,” he said.


    Sugar Creek Construction provided the following information on the status of the issues highlighted by Channel 9:

    • Erosion control not sufficient and rain runoff got past erosion control measures onto I85 S. A repetitive problem: NCR Closed (June 16, 2017)
    • Asphalt cores outside ½ thickness tolerance. Required thickness 2.5”: NCR Closed
    • Newly constructed pipes are not aligned properly: NCR remains Open (work performed by DCCS, a company that filed bankruptcy in February 2017)
    • Newly constructed pipe has a hole in it: NCR remains Open (work performed by DCCS, a company that filed bankruptcy in February 2017)
    • Permanent concrete barrier does not follow the lines and grades as shown in plans. Does not meet the department’s expectations of workmanship: NCR remains Open (work performed by DCCS, a company that filed bankruptcy in February 2017), but the large majority of the concrete barrier object of this NCR was demolished (type S2)
    • Several areas on bridge 111W were detected to have lack of concrete vibration effort and lack of concrete consolidation which have created air pockets: NCR Closed (April 2, 2018)
    • A subcontractor hit the underside of a flyover bridge. Dump truck’s bed was left up in position: NCR remains open (currently under review)
    • Concrete barrier removed, crane exposed to traffic: NCR Closed (September 19, 2017)
    • Unapproved concrete used for a barrier wall: NCR Closed (January 30, 2018)
    • A hole was left unprotected, resulting in a fall hazard: NCR Closed (December 29, 2017)
    • Honeycombing observed at the bottom of a bridge: NCR Closed (July 16, 2018)
    • Honeycombing observed at the bottom of a column of a bridge: NCR Closed (March 22, 2018)

    I-77 Mobility Partners, the developer of the I-77 express lanes, provided the below statement: 

    “I-77 Mobility Partners and NCDOT have inspectors closely monitoring the construction of I-77 Express. This collaborative oversight structure helped identify non-conformance items, which are addressed by the contractor. I-77 Mobility Partners, as the developer, and NCDOT, as the owner of the roadway, will continue to work with Sugar Creek Construction to deliver a quality project for the state and motorists.

    All along the corridor, existing infrastructure is being greatly improved in both the general purpose lanes and the express lanes. Since signing the original contract for the project, we have signed a number of change orders to incorporate additional work. Milestone deadlines have been extended accordingly. No deadline-related fines or penalties would be owed under the Comprehensive Agreement unless the construction work does not achieve Final Acceptance by October 31, 2019.”

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