Repairs to cracks found along a $1.4-billion, 20-mile Phoenix-area light-rail project are nearly complete, but deciding who’s to blame is still far from done. The 33-station, at-grade METRO line, which runs through Phoenix, Tempe and Mesa, is still on track for its December 27 debut.

Officials found fissures up to 7.5 inches wide across three of the project’s five line segments during routine inspections. In January, consultant Zeta-Tech Associates, Cherry Hill, N.J., was hired for $60,000 to conduct a three-month investigation to determine the cause and recommend repairs. High heat from handheld plasma welding torches used to cut drainage openings into line changed the steel’s structural properties resulting in brittleness and microscopic cracks that worsened with expansion and contraction during seasonal weather changes.

Thirty-one flaws were found in total over line section 3, built by Archer Western Contractors; and line sections 4 and 5, both done by Sundt/Stacy & Witbeck JV. The contractors are responsible for $600,000 in repairs, including grinding away damaged portions, and removing and replacing 12-ft to 16-ft-long line sections.

“Anything failing a magnetic particle test used to find microscopic cracks is being replaced,” says Marty McNeil, a METRO spokesperson. “Two of the three line section repairs are done. The third line section repairs will finish in May.”

The project is still within budget, thanks to a $177.2-million contingency fund that is now 85% exhausted. Parsons Brinkerhoff, New York City, is the general designer and engineer, and the joint-venture of PBS&J Inc., Orlando, and PGH Wong Engineering Inc., San Francisco, is overseeing contract administration.

“There is no fault being assigned,” McNeil says. “Discussions are still underway with our contractors, consultants and designers. Those talks are going well.”

Valley Metro Rail Inc., the project’s owner, will ask the party responsible for the use of torches to pay for the repair costs.