Caltrans must redo failed surfacing job on Highway 50 bridge in Sacramento

A multimillion-dollar resurfacing job on the Highway 50 bridge over the Sacramento River has failed – mysteriously, officials say – and will have to be scrapped and replaced this summer at three times the original cost.

The resurfacing, conducted in late 2014 on the Pioneer Memorial Bridge between West Sacramento and Sacramento, began failing immediately, state Department of Transportation records show. Cars and trucks shudder when they pass over ruts that are now more than 50 feet long and 7 feet wide at numerous spots on the bridge.

Caltrans officials say the repair could run $15 million to $18 million. The original resurfacing in 2014 cost $5 million.

Caltrans chief Malcolm Dougherty said the higher cost is because the state has decided to use a thicker and sturdier surfacing material to avoid further problems, given uncertainty about the cause of the pockmarking in the first place.

“We have already had failure; I don’t want to go through another iteration of that,” Dougherty said. “I want to move forward with the highest level of confidence.”

Dougherty said the state will pay the extra cost from its highway maintenance account, then likely will file a claim with the manufacturer of the resurfacing material.

“Our priority is to fix that pavement as quickly as possible,” he said. “It is not optimal for the driving public. Then we will contact the manufacturer.”

The problem stems from a $26 million project in 2014, called SacDeckedOut. The state repaired and resurfaced the Highway 50 bridge and an elevated section of Interstate 5 north of downtown Sacramento.

Caltrans used a thick polyester concrete on I-5, but chose a thinner, less expensive mix of resin and rock aggregate on the Pioneer Bridge.

The pockmarks, about  3/8 of an inch deep, began forming even before the resurfacing project was finished, according to state documents reviewed by The Sacramento Bee.

Caltans and its contractors patched the initial problem areas in 2015 and then again when more formed after winter rains in 2016. The patches, using an additional primer for adhesion, appear to have worked, Caltrans and the contractor, Myers & Sons Construction, said. But this winter’s heavy rains caused extensive new rutting in other areas.

Andrew Brandt, Caltrans deputy for maintenance in the Sacramento region, said he hopes to have crews grinding the flawed surface in July, then laying down a polyester material similar to what was used on I-5. He said it is uncertain whether the entire job will be done this year or will have to be continued after next winter as well.

Brandt said Caltrans has not yet solicited for a contractor to do the job. The new work on the bridge will require lane closures, officials said. Most of them are expected to take place at night.

The question of what went wrong remains unresolved.

The surfacing material Caltrans used is a sticky liquid resin mixed with aggregate rock chips, generically called a multilayered system or MLS.

Caltrans chief Dougherty said the state has done more than 40 other projects with various MLS products and has never experienced the type of peeling that is happening on the Pioneer Bridge. Dougherty said this MLS product, manufactured by Kwik Bond Polymers of Benicia, was a new one.

The contractor, Myers & Sons, commissioned an initial analysis that suggested several potential causes for the failure: The material that was used may not have been up to the task of bonding to the freeway surface. The freeway’s slow lanes, generally used by heavy trucks, may have been too worn to accept the new material. Or the existing bridge surface may have been contaminated from vehicle oil and dirt that the prep work wasn’t able to sufficiently clean away.

Clinton Myers of Myers & Sons said he suspects there was an issue with that particular MLS product. He said Caltrans gave Myers a short list at the beginning of the project of several MLS products to choose from. He said he would have preferred using the thicker polyester concrete.

“We did what we were asked to do, and the product for whatever reason didn’t work,” Myers said.

However, Kwik Bond General Manager Randy Slezak, whose company makes the MLS surfacing material, said that same product has worked without any problems on other projects, including recently on the Business 80 bridge over the American River in Sacramento.

“Nobody can point the finger at anybody conclusively,” Slezak said. And, “no one is going to raise their hand and say, ‘OK, I’ll pay for it.’ 

Officials with the subcontractor that did the overlays, American Civil Contractors of Benicia, did not respond to Bee requests for comment.

The lack of certainty on the cause prompted negotiations two years ago between Caltrans, Myers, subcontractors and the manufacturer over who should have to pay for repairs. Caltrans officials said Myers ultimately shouldered the bulk of the cost of the initial patch repairs. Myers estimated the initial rounds of repairs cost less than $1 million.

Caltrans signed a deal in return early last year agreeing that Myers is not responsible for any further fixes.The state also paid Myers $762,000 last year for some extra work that had not been included in the original contract. It is unclear whether that extra work was related to the pockmark problem. For its part, Myers agreed to drop other claims it had submitted for extra pay for other work that had not been covered in the original contract, and give up any right to future claims against the state related to the bridge project.

Tony Bizjak: 916-321-1059, @TonyBizjak