Major problems for a long delayed and new major highway; VDOT says major problems with Peninsula's I-64
May have to be ripped up and replaced

New, unopened lanes of I-64 looking west (left) and east (right) near the Hampton Coliseum may have to be ripped up and re-paved because at least some portions were poured flat and won't drain rainwater

A Virginia News Source investigation

The new section of I-64 on the Peninsula, already 32.3% over budgeted costs, may have flaws that will require the entire project to be ripped out and repaved.  That's the worst case scenario, said John H. Neal Jr., Hampton Roads District Construction Engineer for the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT).

VDOT has acknowledged that it cannot open the new section of I-64 at Mercury Boulevard because a major problem has been discovered.  VDOT, in a dispute with the contractor, E. V. Williams, claims at least some portions, if not all of the new highway does not meet state safety standards.  It is flat in places which would cause it to flood during rains or storms.

The worst case scenario would require the entire new section to be ripped out and re-paved, Neal said. But there could be two other fixes:  Overlay specific problems sections or grind out individual problem  sections.

Troubled bridge over troubled Interstate 64

Looking across top of Magruder Bridge

Virginia News Source on February 22 was first to report that work had been stopped on the Magruder Blvd. bridge across the 8-lane I-64 because it was found to be unsafe. (See: Unsafe bridge)

It had been scheduled to open in last December, but it is still not complete today.

Contractors in February reported that the bridge had been built flat, without camber, and could have collapsed if loaded with traffic.

The bridge is part of a 7-bridge complex in the Coliseum Central Highway Improvement Project on the Peninsula.

Not all aspects of the report were accurate, but at the time VDOT was unable to rebut contractor claims or provide answers to questions raised by onsite contractors about the severity of the problem with the bridge.

One thing is certain:  There was a major problem and it remains today. 

John H. Neal Jr., of VDOT, said one support column failed to meet VDOT's required tolerances for safety.  It was removed, sent back to the factory in Abington where it is being re-heated and bent to have the proper camber.  A VDOT engineer is on the scene at the factory assuring the work is done correctly. It hasn't been returned to the bridge job site yet.

The other three (3) columns, Neal said, "are within tolerances that we can make sure we can make adjustments to have a safe bridge."

Cost, responsibility, and new opening date is still not determined.

At this point, VDOT said it does not know:   (1).  The severity of the problem; (2). how much pavement is involved; (3) what'll be required to repair the roadway; (4) who's responsible; (5) what the repair cost will be; or (6) who will pay for repairs.

What VDOT does know is they can't assure the roadway is safe for motorists to use at this time. And Neal says he does believe it is probably the worst problem VDOT has ever had with a major roadway.

But he said he would have the answers in 2 weeks.  He said VDOT would know all the answers, including cost of the fix and who's responsible for the problem in two (2) weeks.  He didn't equivocate during an interview with Virginia News Source in his Suffolk District office in making that statement.

Neal added, "Regardless of the final analysis, it is a major problem."

One contractor working on the project said the entire new section of I-64 was poured 'flat'. "When it rains, water stands on the roadway.  Anybody can see the road is flat. It doesn't drain," he said.  Most likely, he added, the entire project will have to be ripped up and re-paved.  "If that happens," he said, "it could bankrupt even a big contractor."  VDOT, said Neal, can't confirm the contractor's assessment of the problem.

Ironically, the project was effectively on schedule.  Started in May 2001, it was originally set to open May 2004, but that opening was rolled back to December 2004 and now has been estimated to open about May 2005. And now that opening depends on the extend of the problem and scope of repairs or replacement.

It was over budget.  Originally budgeted for $64.7 MILLION, the completed cost, not counting resolving the problems currently being assessed, is now estimated at $85.7 MILLION.  The additional cost, Neal said, depends on the seriousness of the problem and the responsibility and liability.

Neal, who's been on the job about a year, said he wasn't sure when the problem was first noticed, but said one of VDOT's inspectors noticed the problem as the pavement was being laid.

He said, "We notified the contractor that the problem needed to be resolved."  E. V. Williams, he said, continued to pave the project. "The contractor proceeded anyway," Neal said.

During the next two (2) weeks, Neal said, VDOT has to determine who read the elevations wrong 'us or the contractor.'  "But," he said, "we are not at the point (now) of assessing liability."