CDOT scolded for construction problems
SUMMIT COUNTY – The Summit County commissioners and more than a dozen Heeney-area residents chastised Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) engineers Monday for their apparent mismanagement of the Highway 9 construction project north of Silverthorne.
CDOT engineers Brian Pinkerton, Inessa Zisman and Mike Voxakis listened to more than an hour and a half of sometimes heated criticism about the condition of the construction zone and the creation of a berm made of excavated road material. The three periodically hung their heads as residents unleashed their frustration on them.
The CDOT project on Highway 9 began last summer and was scheduled to end this year. Officials now expect the project to conclude in November 2003.
The construction, which aims to widen shoulders, add retaining walls and soften curves, extends for six miles from mile marker 109 to mile marker 115 north of Silverthorne.
Although CDOT is overseeing the project, it has contracted the work to Denver-based PCL Civil Constructors. No one from PCL attended Monday’s meeting, leaving CDOT to take the heat Monday.
“Boy, you guys have really got my phone ringing,” said County Commissioner Tom Long, who drives through the zone frequently. “I know it’s a long job and a tough job, and I’m not trying to blame anybody. But I’m telling you, you’ve got a mess down there. We’ve got berms and stuff going in that were nothing like the scoping. And that hurts your credibility.
“The traffic management isn’t working. It took me an hour and 45 minutes to go from Silverthorne to Kremmling both Friday and Saturday. You’ve got to figure out a way to get traffic through there.”
Zisman admitted the project’s six-mile length is greater than most. Originally, the plan called for improving that portion of the highway in three separate projects of two miles each. Instead, CDOT decided it could cut time and costs by combining those three projects into one. Zisman also said PCL has fallen behind in its work. The entire project won’t be finished this year as originally projected and will now spill over into late 2003.
Workers are further challenged, she said, because there is no way to detour traffic. The new road is being built on top of the old road, necessitating one-lane traffic and frequent stops.
Drivers, residents at wit’s end
Heeney resident Steve Dreiling, who works in Frisco, criticized the project in general, saying he knew several people whose vehicles had been “damaged or destroyed” after passing repeatedly through the construction area. His own truck, he said, is currently in a shop undergoing $1,200 in repairs “because of the road.”
“There is no consideration I can see for the motoring public,” Dreiling said. “With the delays, has anybody considered the millions of dollars of wages people have had to pay because their employees sit there?”
Long twice urged residents to quell their emotions, saying, “This isn’t a total roast of CDOT or PCL.”
“It should be,” muttered one of the residents.
Debra Mitchener, who owns the Melody Lodge on County Road 30 near Heeney, said their business is down 60 percent this summer. Business elsewhere in the state, she said, is down 20 to 30 percent.
“I’ve been told you guys aren’t responsible for this,” she said. “The contractor – they aren’t responsible. So we have a road out there nobody is responsible for.”
Her husband, Dale, who runs the Heeney Marina, said several people came to the reservoir with broken boat axles and other damage to their vehicles.
“Do you think they came back?” he said. “No way. It has absolutely devastated our business.”
Voxakis tried to respond to some of the comments, including concerns about long traffic delays.
“We’ve told the contractor between a 30- and 40-minute delay on that corridor is acceptable,” he said. “Do we change it and not get this wrapped up? That will be more expensive.”
Long suggested CDOT consider a “grace period,” a set time every day in which drivers could be guaranteed swift passage through the construction zone.
While he cautioned it might come at some financial cost, Pinkerton said that was a good suggestion.
Even after CDOT’s engineers left the commissioners’ meeting room, Long remained frustrated.
“I guarantee you if they did what they’ve done on Highway 9 north down on the Front Range, those guys that were sitting here today would all be working in Del Norte somewhere building sheep trails,” he said.
Mathis berm illegal
CDOT officials also commented on an unpermitted berm on Highway 9.
Zisman said CDOT had no role in the recent construction of a berm on Sierra Bosque neighborhood resident Mark Mathis’ property.
“That was a private deal between Mark and the contractor (PCL),” she said. “We really didn’t have anything to do with it.”
The 2,000-foot-long berm is made of construction waste material. Not only did Mathis not acquire the proper permit to build such a berm, but neighbors and the commissioners say it is unsightly. CDOT’s engineers, however, insisted the state is not at fault for the berm.
“The material taken off the project has to be disposed of,” Pinkerton said, adding that the contractor is allowed to “come up with creative ways” to dispose of it. “Our only contractual provision is it would have to be disposed of legally.”
Voxakis said he believes the problem lies with Mathis.
“I know for sure the contractor has all his permits in order on my job,” he said.
Zisman also said she understood the berm was not finished and would be made more aesthetically appealing. But, she added, if the berm creates a legal problem, CDOT can withhold PCL’s final payment until it is resolved.
Long called CDOT’s response to the Mathis berm concern “amusing.”
“You take the position of see no evil, hear no evil,” he said, adding that “everybody is pointing a finger at their buddy.”
County officials told CDOT engineers they’re now stepping into the berm fray. Mathis has been notified he will have to come before the planning commission and ask permission for the berm, which the commission may not grant. In that case, the berm will have to be removed.
“We would like CDOT to know that berm was done illegally,” said County Commissioner Bill Wallace. “There are zero permits on that. Please be on notice the contractor should not get final payment until this is taken care of.”
County attorney Jeff Huntley said PCL isn’t removed from responsibility on the issue.
“We’re going to consider the person who put the dirt on that land as responsible as the person who owns the land,” he said. “We’ll go after both of them if we have to.”
Maxine Horwitz, who also lives along Highway 9, said she has lived next door to Mathis since he came to the Sierra Bosque neighborhood, and she said she doesn’t believe he will improve the berm’s appearance.
“He’s only brought misery,” she said. “He is never going to dress up that berm. We’re going to have to look at that (stuff) for the rest of our lives.”
Dreiling said he believes the berm also is built on an electrical utility easement.
“Somebody needs to have their head examined or be fired before this kind of stuff takes place,” he said.
Jane Reuter can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 229, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
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