Bridge project changes concrete testing firm amid charges of "er - WDRB 41 Louisville News

Bridge project changes concrete testing firm amid charges of "errors"

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – A subcontractor that tested concrete for the East End Bridge project was replaced this summer after making “errors” in key calculations and failing to submit reports on time, Indiana transportation officials said.

But Indianapolis-based Patriot Engineering and Environmental fulfilled its contractual obligations, said Richard Kraft, a Patriot owner and co-founder. Kraft said Patriot provided "timely" data from its tests and, at first, didn't carry out some calculations to the exact decimal places Indiana requested -- although he insisted his company followed industry standards.

The change in contractors invites questions about the integrity of concrete used in the Indiana-led $1.1 billion eastern part of the Ohio River Bridges Project, but Kraft and transportation officials said other laboratories verified Patriot's results showing the concrete's strength met project requirements.

“Our review of all the test results has shown that there is no issue,” said Ron Heustis, the Indiana Department of Transportation's bridges project manager. “Our own test results show there isn't any issue, and our ultimate goal is to be sure that all the proper materials are placed in the project.”

As part of the state's oversight on the project, Heustis said two independent examinations of Patriot's work found no indication that “any of the materials failed to meet specifications.”

Patriot was hired by WV Construction, a joint venture of Walsh Construction of Chicago and France-based Vinci Construction. Representatives of WV Construction and WVB East End Partners, the developer Indiana selected in 2012, declined to be interviewed.

The Transportation Department and the Indiana Finance Authority – the state agencies overseeing the project, along with the Federal Highway Administration – have not yet released documents related to Patriot's work that WDRB News requested last week under Indiana's public records law.

At issue is a method that determines how much pressure a concrete sample, taken from a construction site and placed in a cylinder, can absorb before breaking. The tests are done on a specific date and a subsequent calculation shows the strength of each sample.

Indiana and Kentucky have divided work on the $2.3 billion, two-bridge project that will add tolls on the Kennedy Bridge, a new span next to it and an upriver crossing between Utica, Ind., and Prospect, Ky. Indiana is responsible for the eastern bridge and the approach roads on both sides of the river.

Heustis said “multiple thousands of cubic yards” have been placed on the project, and a WVB spokeswoman said Patriot poured roughly 13,000 cubic yards. Several of those pours have exceeded 2,000 cubic yards, Heustis said, generating as many as 400 samples that would need testing on the same day.

Heustis said Patriot, which has a Louisville office, oversaw the concrete tests from July 2013 until late July or early August, when WV Construction, or WVC, replaced it with a new firm, London-based Amec.

“Part of WVC's concern was that Patriot wasn't geared up to do the amount of work,” he said.

Heustis said Patriot committed “minor math errors” in the calculations that could be a result of “someone being overworked,” for example.

Under Indiana's agreement with WVB, the state has oversight of the concrete testing process that includes the ability to perform independent tests. Transportation Department spokesman Will Wingfield said two other rounds of testing occurred besides those done by Patriot.

“We noticed some errors in the project and that those had increased as the bulk of their work had increased, so as a result that was the decision of the construction team to go with a different provider for that moving forward,” Wingfield said.

In an interview, Kraft defended his company's work and said he “somewhat anticipated” Patriot's role would cease. He said Patriot was approached by WV Construction as construction ramped up to provide testing until the construction team was prepared to do the work internally.

As the amount of concrete used on the project increased, Kraft said the workload began to “get to the level of our capacity.”

At one point, Kraft said, more than 30 employees were involved in the project as the company balanced other work in the region, including at River Ridge Commerce Center in Clark County, Ind.

Kraft said Patriot entered its test results into a project database electronically.

“There were glitches, I guess you would say, in the electronic transfer of that information,” he said. But he added: “We felt we were timely in getting the reports into the database.”

He also said concrete samples were tested when requested.

“To my knowledge, cylinders were broken when requested and based on protocols that were established,” he said.

Reporter Marcus Green can be reached at (502) 585-0825 or on Twitter @MarcusGreenWDRB.

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