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22 Freeway contractor, OCTA in dispute

Construction drags on after deadline extended. There's a clash over penalty fines too.

February 03, 2007|David Reyes | Times Staff Writer

While motorists are moving at a quicker pace on the largely renovated Garden Grove Freeway, transportation planners and the contractor of the $500-million project are embroiled in a dispute over undone work.

When first rolled out, the project was heralded as an innovative, 800-day overhaul on a 12-mile stretch of northern Orange County's primary east-west corridor by Nov. 1, 2006. Bad weather and other delays pushed the deadline to Nov. 30.

Two months later, carpool lanes are unfinished, sound walls are still going up and bridge work has dragged on to the frustration of the Orange County Transportation Authority board, which last week blamed OCTA officials for not providing specific deadlines for the work.

Discussions focused on a proposed change order that would have given allowances to contractor Granite-Myers-Rados and reduced penalties for unfinished work.

"The problem with rolling over for the contractor is that this was a competitive bid contract," said Mark Rosen, a Garden Grove city councilman who chairs OCTA's Regional Planning and Highways Committee. "Now, they're basically proposing to cave in to the contractor."

The contract had called for completion regardless of weather and $50,000 a day in penalties if the work wasn't finished on time, board members said. The contractor faces eight days in penalties but a decision to charge Granite-Myers-Rados is pending.

Last week, the board seemed surprised by -- and ultimately rejected -- a change order that described most of the work as "substantially completed," contained vague language about overall penalties and said the contractor would be fined only $5,000 a day if the remaining work was not completed by March 12.

On Monday, Rosen's committee is scheduled to meet to hammer out the change order and make a recommendation to the full board Feb. 12.

In interviews, Rosen and other board members expressed dissatisfaction with reports by OCTA officials that depicted the freeway widening project east of the Magnolia Street bridge in Garden Grove as "substantially completed" when numerous projects were unfinished.

Supervisor Bill Campbell, who is on the OCTA board, said the board wasn't aware of deadline discussions between OCTA staff and the contractor.

"We didn't know the contractor had said he can do the work but it won't be done until June 30th of this year," Campbell said. "He then said he could do it, 'If you allow me to delay everything west of Magnolia to March 31,' and staff said, 'OK.'

"This was never presented to us," Campbell said.

"What bothers me is: Nobody gave me the chance to make that choice."

But OCTA said it had provided the board with schedule information that spelled out the Nov. 30 deadline and new March deadline for projects west of the bridge, said OCTA spokeswoman Andrea West.

Penalties and completion dates for sound walls, carpool lanes, landscaping and other work will be discussed Monday with the board in a closed session prior to the committee meeting, West said.

Jim Laing, western regional manager for Granite Construction Inc., one of the three companies involved in the project, did not respond to a request for an interview.

OCTA officials said they were able to shave three years off construction by using a method called "design-built," in which construction crews work on one section of the road while architects and engineers design another.

Granite, the project's main contractor, has said it lost millions of dollars because the tight schedule prompted crews to work around the clock to make up for delays caused by rain and seismic retrofitting of bridges. Granite officials said they expected to lose nearly $13 million on the project.

OCTA officials said the contractor would have to file a claim to seek additional money.

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david.reyes@latimes.com

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