Christine Stuart photo
Three DOT employees testify (Christine Stuart photo)

During its second-day of hearings Friday the state legislature’s Transportation and Public Safety Committee’s questioned Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, three Department of Transportation employees, and an official from the company that designed the botched Interstate 84 widening project.

Testimony on a variety of issues from contract reform to the design of the project and DOT’s attitude toward contractors and consultants were discussed at length Friday.

Ned Statchen, a DOT engineer, said “one of the reasons ConnDOT has kinda lost its way is because it hires outside consultants to oversee other consultants.” In the I-84 case, Maguire Group was hired to oversee the construction done by L.G. DeFelice of North Haven.

Statchen said a DOT engineer should directly oversee the work.

Other problems discussed by the three DOT employees was construction change orders and alleged design flaws.

Jay Doody, another DOT engineer, said some of the design flaws in the project were not L.G. DeFelice’s fault. He said while the construction company “screwed” up some of the project, they can’t be held totally responsible. He said the design company Close, Jensen and Miller which was never mentioned by name in the independent audit report should also bear some of the blame for the millions of dollars in change orders.

Rep. Chris Caruso, D-Bridgeport, asked “Who omitted that from the report?” He said the committee is relying on the audit report by Hill International and now “we’re learning it might be flawed?”

Doody said he did not have an answer, but he shared a story about an on-call contractor that continued to do shoddy work for the state because it made large campaign donations. Doody said the unnamed contractor did not receive the on-call contract under the new administration. However, the records detailing the work of consultants should be on file at the DOT. He said he thinks he may have been the only one back in the 1990s that asked for those documents.

John Miller, principle of Close, Jensen, and Miller, said the allegations made about the design flaws in the Hill report were “unfair” and “unfounded.” He said when his company designed the now infamous drainage system, “320 out of 320 drains were designed right.”

According to DOT reports about 270 out of the 320 drains were improperly constructed.

An independent audit released in May determined that the project’s cost escalated from $56 million to more than $71 million. In addition it found major flaws, such as faulty drains, defective light poles, an improperly installed bridge that went undocumented by Maguire Group inspectors.

Miller said he finds it troubling that the auditors did not call him with questions. He said if auditors had called they would have concluded “there were no design errors on the project.”

At one point during the testimony, Caruso asked, “Why do we pay contractors that do substandard work?”

Caruso said he hopes the legislature passes the clean contracting bill along with campaign finance reform to stop contractors from making political contributions in order to influence the award of contracts by the state.

Blumenthal said the legislature should look all construction contracts and include a provision for surety bond companies to hire only construction companies that are prequalified by the state and that meet state responsible bidder criteria. L.G. DeFelice reformed as Hallberg and was hired by U.S. Fidelity and Guaranty Company to finish work on Route 7.

Transportation Committee Chairman Sen. Donald DeFronzo, D-New Britain, said the committee intends to put together a package, based on recommendations from this week’s testimony, for legislature to act on in 2008.