Interstate 89 repaving project expected to finish soon

Contractor misses deadlines for completing work

By Greg Elias
Observer staff

Incentives and deadlines designed to speed work during a summer-long paving project on Interstate 89 helped limit traffic snarls, but state officials acknowledge the job still took longer than hoped.

Work is winding down on the 16-mile stretch of southbound I-89 between South Burlington and Bolton. The main travel lanes are paved. As of Tuesday, the work remaining included painting line markings, installing rumble strips and paving the exit 11 ramp in Richmond.

State transportation officials say a unique combination of bonuses and penalties for the first phase of the project helped meet the primary goal: getting the work done quickly so traffic tie-ups would be minimized along one of the busiest stretches of highway in Vermont.

“It was a good experience from our side,” said Mike Pologruto, paving program manager for the state Agency of Transportation. “I’m not sure about how the contractor feels.”

The contractor, Frank W. Whitcomb Construction Corp., was required to complete the segment between South Burlington and Williston within 30 days. The agreement called for a $5,000-a-day bonus or penalty for each day the project was finished before or after the deadline.

Whitcomb Construction missed the deadline by eight days and faces a $40,000 penalty, Pologruto said. He said the company will also miss this Saturday’s deadline for the remaining work.

Chip Whitcomb, owner of Whitcomb Construction, did not return telephone calls seeking comment. The company was awarded the project with a low bid of $4.5 million earlier this year.

Stephanie Barrett, who was hired by Whitcomb Construction to inform motorists of the project’s progress, said there were problems obtaining materials needed to complete the first phase of paving, which made it impossible to meet the deadline.

Vic Dwire, the project’s resident engineer for the Agency of Transportation, said congestion caused by the project was manageable. But he acknowledged that the deadline, combined with another contract provision that limited the work between South Burlington and Williston to non-commute hours, made for a trying few weeks at the project’s outset.

“It put an extreme hardship on both the contractor and state employees,” he said. “There were some days I worked 20 hours.”

Pologruto estimated the remaining work would be finished within about two weeks. All that is needed is a few days of dry weather with seasonable temperatures.

Snow or ice “would be a crimp on it for sure,” he said. “But it’s highly unlikely we’d have that kind of weather and not get a break. They should get the markings done this week or next week. Barring some freakish weather … all the stuff should be done by the end of the month.”

The project was among the largest paving jobs in the state this year and the biggest in Chittenden County. It fixed a stretch of highway riddled with potholes, cracks and loose pavement. The work included widening the Williston off-ramp from two to three lanes, which is expected to solve the problem of traffic backing up to the traveled portion of I-89.

The remainder of the work is supposed to be completed by Oct. 15, but Pologruto said the contractor would not have the job finished by then. Unlike the first part of the project, there is no set penalty for missing the deadline. The state could seek what are called “liquidated damages,” he said, but it would first take into account rain days, equipment failures and other factors that delayed the work.

Still, Pologruto said, the state wants the work finished before winter weather intervenes.

“As far as the construction completion date goes, they are not going to be allowed to just blow by that,” Pologruto said.

One Williston motorist said the major traffic disruptions that often mark major road construction projects were notably absent on I-89.

“It went pretty smoothly,” said Phyllis Etienne. “I didn’t have any problems.

“Take Route 7 if you want problems,” she added, referring to the ongoing construction project on that road that has slowed traffic for the past few years.