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Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News
A view of State Route 92 (Timpanogos Highway) on Thursday, March 8, 2012. The project was scheduled to be finished in October. The contractor, Flatiron/Harper Joint Venture, is being fined $15,000 for each day past the deadline until completion of the project. UDOT said the $170 million project has experienced "unprecedented" difficulties, including cracks in the concrete and other quality issues.
When we find a quality issue that wasn't built per our safety quality standards, it's not the responsibility of the taxpayers. "It's up to the contractors to make those repairs. —Jose Rodriguez, UDOT's Timpanogos Highway project manager

HIGHLAND — Utah Department of Transportation officials said they have encountered "unprecedented" difficulties with a $170 million project to create a commuter roadway from Highland to I-15.

The problems include cracks in concrete, gaps beneath the roadway and cosmetic fixes that appear to have been put in place to conceal serious structural issues, UDOT officials said. The project is also behind schedule, costing the contractor thousands of dollars a day in late-project fees.

"There are significant quality issues that we have encountered on this project," Heather Barnum, UDOT spokeswoman for the Timpanogos Highway project, said Thursday. "You may say unprecedented."

Jose Rodriguez, UDOT's Timpanogos Highway project manager, said it's normal to have some quality issues with any road project. But problems with road construction performed by a Flatiron/Harper Joint Venture are extensive.

"To have this level of quality issues and to be this far beyond our completion date is unusual," he said. "The magnitude and severity of the issues are greater on this project."

Officials for Flatiron/Harper Joint Venture would not answer questions concerning the allegations. The company did issue a statement saying it is working with UDOT to solve problems and complete the project:

"Both the Flatiron/Harper Joint Venture and the Utah Department of Transportation share the common goal of delivering the state Route 92 project to the traveling public in a manner consistent with our values of safety, quality and economy," Dale Nelson, an operations manager for Flatiron Constructors, Inc., said. "One of our top goals on every project is to minimize the impact to the public, and that is certainly a top priority here."

Nelson said Flatiron/Harper has encountered challenges "ranging from right of way constraints to complex project specifications," but said the contractors will continue to work with UDOT to finish the roadway "in the shortest time possible, without compromising safety or quality."

UDOT's on-time completion performance is about 93 percent. But this project is well past its targeted Oct. 20, 2011, completion date. Every day since then, UDOT is issuing "liquidated damages" in the amount of $15,000 per day against Flatiron/Harper Joint Venture.

When the project is completed by its current target date of May 22, the company will have been assessed more than $3 million in liquidated damages, according to a UDOT progress report. Flatiron/Harper must also cover the costs of any needed repairs or changes.

"When we find a quality issue that wasn't built per our safety quality standards, it's not the responsibility of the taxpayers," Rodriguez said. "It's up to the contractors to make those repairs."

Rodriguez said his greatest concern has been "ponding" adjacent to the highway that creates settlements underneath the road. Those settlements, in turn, can lead to broken concrete that can require replacement.

UDOT officials Thursday showed pictures of rebar intended to reinforce concrete panels, but which were placed only an inch deep and able to be removed by hand, Barnum said.

"Even with the significant issues we have, they are working with us to correct them, and I know that they are as motivated to finish the project as we are," Barnum said. "They're an international company. They have pride in their work, and I'm sure they want to see this project completed to last as well."

Rodriguez said, "We will not award completion of this project until all quality issues are resolved."

There are three levels of inspection used to determine whether safety and quality standards are met. The first two levels are done by the contractor and include both quality control and quality assurance checks. UDOT comes in during the third stage because it has "owner oversight" of the project.

"We don't dictate their means and management," Rodriguez said.

The project was originally slated for completion in May of 2011. UDOT granted an extension to Oct. 20, 2011, because of unexpected weather conditions and other complications.

Flatiron Constructors Inc. received a lot of publicity in 2010 after it lost the bid for the record $1.7 billion project to rebuild I-15 through Utah County by one point to Provo River Constructors. Provo River had donated $82,500 in campaign contributions to Gov. Gary Herbert.

Unbeknownst to lawmakers and the governor, UDOT Executive Director John Njord decided to pay a $13 million settlement to Flatiron after the company sent a number of letters protesting the award. The incident led to the passage of HB34, which requires the governor to sign off on all UDOT settlements of more than $100,000.

The quality inspection process will be ongoing until the highway is opened to the public, now scheduled for May 22.

Flatiron/Harper Joint Venture was created between Flatiron Constructors and Harper Construction, which was awarded the contract in April 2009.

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