The North Carolina Dept. of Transportation (NCDOT) gradually is restarting four road projects idled in late January, when Alpena, Mich.-based DeVere Construction Co. withdrew from the jobs in an apparent payment dispute with the agency.
The contractor claims it is owed substantial amounts by NCDOT for extra work. In a statement, DeVere President Richard Crittenden said the company “demobilized its forces … pending resolution of sizeable claims and the release of substantial contract balances” being withheld by NCDOT.
“The decision to demobilize was not an easy one, but there is a limit to our patience,” said Crittenden, whose company maintains a branch in Raleigh, N.C. “The NCDOT claim process is broken. I fully anticipate DeVere Construction will prevail and recover the monies properly due and owing by the NCDOT.”
When DeVere failed to return to the projects by Feb. 8, NCDOT declared the company in default of its contracts, according to an NCDOT spokesperson. DeVere’s surety, Liberty Mutual, became responsible for finding substitute contractors for the projects, worth a total of nearly $84 million and all more than half-finished.
Last week, NCDOT announced that Chesire, Conn.-based Lane Construction Co. would take over two Charlotte-area projects: the $51.7-million widening of Independence Boulevard and the $4.4-million replacement of two bridges on U.S. Route 29. As part of its agreement, NCDOT will not pay more than the original bid amount for either contract, nor will the original 2017 completion dates for both projects be extended.
Liberty Mutual also has filed a lawsuit against DeVere in the U.S. District Court in Bay City, Mich., seeking $12.5 million for breach of contract and the alleged submission of false financial information to the company. DeVere denied the fraud allegations in a response, filed on March 8, and again pointed to NCDOT’s “intentional and improper failure to timely pay DeVere for projects it had completed and requesting financing assistance.”
NCDOT repeatedly had cited DeVere for missing deadlines. In September 2014, the agency barred DeVere from bidding on any new projects so that the company could focus on completing its existing work. Those projects included a 5.8-mile U.S. 401 bypass in Roleville, which was opened to traffic in mid-2015, a year late.
Confusion and Cracks
DeVere’s withdrawal from the four projects, all begun in 2013, has caused headaches for more than just NCDOT. Despite the agency’s pleas to improve pavement striping around an $11.9-million bridge replacement on I-26 in Buncombe County, the markings were left to fade, resulting in motorist confusion that has been blamed for at least a dozen construction-zone crashes since November 2015. And the removal of soil-shoring anchors, installed during construction of a $15.9-million connector between two state roads through the campus of Southwestern Community College (SCC) in Sylva, has been blamed for cracks in a nearby campus building, accelerating its settlement into the loose, silty soils on which it was built in 1988.
DeVere blamed NCDOT for the excessive settling, claiming that the company was not sufficiently informed of the poor soil conditions. NCDOT countered that DeVere had installed the anchors beyond the designated construction easement, with some extending 30 ft beneath the building’s foundation.