Motorists who drive the problem-plagued Timpanogos Highway are facing another summer of frustration as crews line up the orange barrels – yet again – to repair damage attributed to faulty construction techniques. The contractor on the project is getting the blame, but accountability for this perpetual mess falls squarely on the shoulders of the Utah Department of Transportation.
The widening and redesign of state Route 92 has been beset with serious quality problems from the beginning. The project was completed more than a year late. Now, the road will be restricted again to repair cracks and crumbling concrete. The westbound commuter lane will be closed for up to four months. The costs associated with the repeated repair work are considerable, as is the frustration of residents and commuters.
They, and all taxpayers, are fully justified in demanding to know just how UDOT could let this happen.
More than a year ago, the department complained of "unprecedented" quality problems on the project, including evidence that rebar intended to reinforce concrete panels was planted less than an inch deep and was removable by hand. There were cracks in the road, gaps beneath the surface and evidence of cosmetic fixes to cover up defects. UDOT ordered the problems repaired, and began fining the contractor.
Lo and behold, a year later, the cracking and crumbling is back, blamed on freeze-thaw cycles in the area, but likely connected to the defects uncovered once before. The inspection process clearly failed in the beginning, and it is clearly failing again.
What is the solution to this problem? For the highway itself, it seems the state is beyond any easy fix – perhaps not yet at the point of tear-it-down-and-start-all-over, but certainly not close to having confidence the problems seen now won't become an annual rite of Spring.
As to the bigger picture, the public needs confidence that UDOT is committed to take whatever steps are necessary to avoid the story of SR 92 becoming a recurring nightmare that haunts other projects.
The department has a new incoming boss, Carlos Braceras, who has served for the last 12 years as its chief deputy. He is by all reports a manager of competence and strong reputation, but when an organization's long-time No. 2 is appointed to the top position, it is a signal that its overseers are content with business as usual.
The trauma of Timpanogos suggests reasons to rethink the usual ways of conducting the business of building and maintaining roadways. The problems there may not be representative of the entirety of UDOT operations, but they certainly argue for a review of the department's bidding, design and inspection policies.
Getting to the bottom of the Timpanogos Highway problems should be at the top of the new director's to-do list as he takes over UDOT's reins.