Tax dollars wasted on a failed experimental project on Interstate 15 will add up to $2.25 million - and Utahns will still be driving on a deeply rutted highway - if concrete cracking necessitates tearing up the new surface entirely.
If problems persist, the experimental synthetic concrete, called "Syn-crete," used to resurface I-15 between 5900 South and 3300 South may have to be torn up - at a cost of $750,000. That cost, added to the original construction costs of $1.5 million, would bring the total to $2.25 million - for essentially no improvements.UDOT officials say 20 percent of the buckling, cracking, peeling concrete has already been ripped up and patched. Traffic on this 4-mile strip of highway, which is the most heavily traveled in Utah, has been delayed now for six weeks. Cost of repairs so far has exceeded $100,000.
However, Owen Hogle, vice president of Hodson Chemical Construction Corp. which produces Syn-crete, disputes that 20 percent of the Syn-crete has failed. Hogle said that as of Thursday, only 5 to 7 percent of the project has been patched.
"We're reviewing the problems and trying to assist UDOT as much as we can in determining the cause of the problem and what can be done to alleviate problems from reoccuring in the future."
"We took a gamble on this product," says Kim Morris, Utah Department of Transportation spokesman. "There is much more than just one batch of concrete that's faulty. There are failures throughout the project. We don't have confidence that more of the stuff isn't going to come up."
UDOT is considering tearing up all the Syn-crete. If that occurs, the total price tag on this highway "mistake" would be close to $2.25 million and would delay construction on another highway project, said Morris. The money comes from the state gasoline tax.
The cause of Syn-crete's inability to stick to the road has not been determined, he said.
In hindsight, UDOT engineer Mike Roshek told the Deseret News that Syn-crete should have been tested more thoroughly before applying it to a major, heavily traveled highway section.
According to UDOT records, the new synthetic concrete was tested for three years at two locations: at Snowville on a 12-by-100-foot section of I-84 near the Idaho border, and at Point of the Mountain on a 6-by-3-foot section of I-15.
"We were comparing three or four new products for thin patching. This one was by far the best performing. It's too bad it didn't do as well on the major scale," said Roshek.
UDOT decided to take a gamble with experimental Syn-crete because it was promoted by Hodson consulting engineers as a quicker, cheaper, long-lasting alternative to conventional concrete. Instead of requiring total reconstruction that would require closing sections of I-15 for a year, the "salt-resistant" 3/4-inch-thick overlay is added on the top of rutted roads.
"The department (UDOT) assumed the risk and tried this new process. The UDOT commission approved it with the understanding it was an experimental project," said Roshek.
Minutes of the July 7 UDOT commission meeting indicate UDOT engineer Ron Delis advised that the Hodson product be tested on a smaller, $400,000 highway project before being applied full-scale.
Steve Creamer, a consulting engineer for Hodson, responded, "It (Syn-crete) is a Utah product, Utah chemistry, Utah cement, Utah aggregate which appears to be working very, very well. They (Hodson Corp.) are trying to come up with a Utah product that can be sold nationwide and they think it will work."
Two investors in Hodson Chemical Construction Corp. - James Hogle Sr. and Jack Gallivan - then expressed their confidence in the new product, according to the meeting minutes.
Hogle said Syn-crete's "outstanding factor was its ability to bond and its resistance to salt."
Gallivan told the commissioners that he "recognized this as a superb product." He said he firmly believes the new concrete will work for Utah and the whole world. "There is $400 billion worth of repair out there; and from what he has seen, this product will do the job."
Commission Chairman Samuel J. Taylor argued that a $400,000 project would not provide a meaningful test. To test on a small scale would be "just fiddling around again like at Snowville." Taylor urged commissioners to support a "real test project" that could be examined by Utah and other states.
Saying he was convinced Utah needs to find better ways of repairing highways, Commissioner Todd G. Weston conceded that UDOT was financing "a product experimentation" but he was convinced that chances had to be taken.
According to the minutes, Roshek told the commissioners Syn-crete was "a different animal to evaluate. The bigger the test project, the more variables the engineers can look at.
"The worst scenario," said Roshek, would be for UDOT to put a whole mile of the product down and have it fail.
Roshek said he first thought a $400,000 project would provide a sufficient test, but had changed his mind to support a $1 million-plus project.
"It would be a testimony to the entire world," Roshek said.
In response, Commissioner Wayne S. Winters questioned the necessity of using the new concrete on a complete freeway instead of just one lane. Roshek replied the larger project had definite benefits.
Commissioner James G. Larkin said he would hate to spend $40,000 and then have to spend an additional $1.5 million because not enough information was gathered.
Funding up to $1.5 million for the experimental project was unanimously approved by the governor-appointed commission. (Commissioner R. LaVaun Cox was not present.)