State reviews highways warranties - WQOW TV: Eau Claire, WI NEWS18 News, Weather, and Sports

State reviews highway warranties

Eau Claire (WQOW) - A DOT practice that places road construction projects under warranty is reviewed and the findings show room for improvement.

Friday morning in Eau Claire, the state transportation secretary commented on recommendations to improve the state's highway warranty process.

The Department of Transportation says putting certain highway construction projects under warranty saves the state time and money.

"We actually have fewer staff actually out on the project doing materials testing and those kinds of things," says Jerald Mentzel, northwest region operations director. "It's more put on to the contractor to do that on-site inspection and work."

Here's how the warranty works: within a certain amount of time, if a roadway cracks or deteriorates more quickly than expected, the contractor who did the work is responsible to fix it at no additional cost.

"It's an opportunity to bring some innovation into the process and to have projects delivered to us on the basis of performance," DOT Secretary Mark Gottlieb says. "Give us the best, lasting pavement that you can give us for the best price."

But a Wisconsin Legislative Audit Bureau report released this month shows there's confusion as to what contractors are expected to repair and when.

Take these eight miles of Highway 53, built in 2006. The warranty was included in the price of the project.

According to the audit, a federal report found that, because of construction quality issues, the projected life span of this stretch of highway is 14 years or less. It was originally supposed to last for 20 years.

The auditor's report states the contractor and the DOT disagreed over what repairs the contractor should be responsible for.

The DOT admits: more clarity is needed when it comes to warranties.

"The specs get kind of complicated as you talk about number of cracks per segment and all the work that goes in to identifying that," Mentzel says. "I think we've worked to simplify that in the contracts so it's a little clearer."

The report includes that and other recommendations for improving future warranties. The state transportation secretary says he supports the findings.

"Our over-riding goal here is to build the best, lasting roads that we can for the best value for the traveling public and the taxpaying public," Gottlieb says. "We think that there is a role to play with warranty pavements in doing that."

As for that stretch of Highway 53, the DOT says it's in the final stages of a resolution. The contractor will likely pay for and make the needed repairs.

The state audit report also recommends the DOT look in to how many tax dollars, if any, these warranties save.

If you'd like to look at Legislative Audit Bureau's full report, click on the link on the side of this Web story.

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