Deteriorating pavement under a stretch of Interstate 85 was the result of the road’s original design but was not picked up by core samples taken before a contractor began a $44 million paving project that was halted earlier this year, a state highway commissioner says.
A spokesman for the state Department of Transportation, meanwhile, says the core samples taken were looking for other things, not the problem that halted the project.
“Bottom line is that we have not in the past performed the tests on cores taken to determine delamination of underlying layers, but for strength and structural numbers only,” spokesman Pete Poore told The Greenville News. “This decision was based on historical performance on the underlying layers on the interstate system for numerous years.”
State Department of Transportation Commissioner Woody Willard, who represents Greenville and Spartanburg counties, told The News that he has been told the protocols followed on the I-85 project were the same as those followed on all other interstate projects in the state.
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Asked whether the problems that halted the project could have been found before earlier this year, Willard said they could have been, in theory.
“I think the answer to that, in hindsight, would be yes,” Willard said. “The answer to that at the time the decisions were made is no because the same protocol that was followed in all the others was followed in this particular situation.”
Willard asked why the state would go to the effort and expense of additional testing “if you had never encountered this before and there was nothing to believe you needed to go that extra step” until some of the asphalt was removed.
The project to resurface 10 miles of I-85 in Spartanburg County was halted this spring after officials determined that more work needed to be done to portions of the underlying structure of the busy highway.
The state Department of Transportation says it is scheduled to receive bids for a revised project on Aug. 11 but is still working with federal highway officials to determine what will be done. No cost estimates or timetables have been released.
Questions about what happened with the project surfaced in recent months as lawmakers debated whether to send more money to the state’s roads and change the leadership structure at DOT.
Senate Majority Leader Harvey Peeler of Gaffney and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Hugh Leatherman of Florence in recent weeks have both asked questions about the project.
So did Rep. Phyllis Henderson of Greenville, chair of a House oversight panel examining DOT, when State Transportation Secretary Janet Oakley came before the panel in April.
Oakley, who is resigning her post, apologized then for the delayed project and told lawmakers she did not know what caused the problem.
Henderson told The News that what happened to I-85 is symbolic of what is going on to the system as a whole.
“Things are getting so bad that things they thought they could rehab, when they get in there they find out they are worse than they thought,” she said. “They are falling apart underneath and now they have to be reconstructed, which is way more expensive. It just makes the problem that we have worse.”
The state awarded the contract to the Rogers Group Inc. of Nashville, Tennessee, on June 12, 2014, and the firm began work in August to remove the top five inches of asphalt and replace it with new pavement.
DOT officials have said when the contractor began removing the top two inches asphalt in preparation for resurfacing the interstate, the underlying surface in parts “began to deteriorate under traffic” and the agency decided to put down two inches of asphalt to stabilize the pavement. Officials decided the project had to be changed after studying the underlying pavement.
“SCDOT, with approval of (the Federal Highway Administration), determined that the original scope of work was not viable due to the unexpected performance of the underlying existing pavement,” the agency said in a statement.
The contract was terminated on March 31, according to DOT, and Rogers was paid $5 million for the work done through then.
“Since the contract termination that occurred March 31, 2015, SCDOT has taken core samples in the failing section as well as the entire project corridor,” the agency said in a statement. “In addition, further investigation has taken place to identify the cause of failure during construction and to identify other areas throughout the project limits with existing conditions similar to the failing section.”
Willard said he knows from his experience in the real estate business that taking samples can be hit or miss in finding underlying problems.
“The whole substructure up there on 85 is not all bad,” he said. “There were just portions of it that seemed to be bad and were bad because of the original design and the original construction.”
Willard said he also understands that the revised project will involve removing more than the top five inches of pavement, at least in parts.
The existing drainage and barrier wall will impact the revised design, DOT officials said in their statement.
They also acknowledged through DOT spokesman Pete Poore that it appears the revised project will require removing more than five inches of asphalt, at least in some segments of the right lane.
Willard said he doesn’t know how long the project will take but expects it to last the rest of the year, though the contractor would not be able to put down asphalt in extreme cold.