Probe targets contractor, inspector.

State officials are investigating the contractor and inspection engineer on a 3.5-mile, $52-million road widening and improvement project on Interstate 84 in Cheshire, Conn., after the state terminated the contractor and then claimed that the inspection engineer failed to catch severe errors on drains. The contractor says it was only trying to complete its work and the engineer says it is being unfairly scapegoated at election time.

Connecticut Transportation Commissioner Stephen E. Korta II in May terminated the I-84 contract with L.G. DeFelice Inc., North Haven, after the contractor ran out of funds and ceased work. The state Dept. of Transportation worked with DeFelice's surety for the project, USF&G, which chose to pick another contractor to finish the work.

Problems with the drainage system on the I-84 project surfaced late last year and early this year. According to a Sept. 14 memo by Arthur W. Gruhn, ConnDOT’s highway chief engineer, DeFelice failed to fix drain problems before stopping work and the problems seen to that point were “the tip of the iceberg.”  Many catch basins lacked underdrain connections. In August, ConnDOT hired STV Group Inc., New York City, to check the drainage system.

STV reported that 270 of 300 catch basins needed to be fixed. Some basins were severely skewed, were placed up to 1.5 ft from proper locations, had openings so small that no one could enter them for inspections or repairs and contained debris. In some cases, the drains extended behind or below the median barrier. In all, the defects “are stunning,” wrote Gruhn.

Unhappy with the problems and “sub-par work,” Gov. Jodi Rell (R) on Sept. 16 ordered state officials to also terminate the inspection consultant on the job, engineer Maguire Group Inc., New Britain. In a statement, it says ConnDOT “is seeking to make our firm a scapegoat for its failings and the failing of the construction contractor, L.G. DeFelice Inc., which abandoned the project due to financial problems.” Maguire alerted ConnDOT to drainage problems and “provided the required” services, the firm claims. Two weeks earlier, Maguire seemed to take a different tack, saying in a letter that it was eager to correct deficiencies in its work and was formulating new procedures.

Stephen Hallberg, who headed DeFelice since June, 2005, says the surety for two of his state contracts, XL Specialty Insurance, allowed him to form a new contracting company to complete those jobs. But the I-84 work at Cheshire was delayed because the surety for that job, USF&G, preferred to hire another firm, O&G Industries Inc., Torrington, to finish the job.

The state was eager to avoid delays in the project that would upset state drivers. Forming a new company was “the most efficient way to the complete the contracts,” says Hallberg, whose new West Haven-based firm is called Hallberg Contracting Corp. “As far as I know, the drainage was installed and inspected and we were paid for the work,” he says.