Caltrans will close lanes through summer on Highway 50 bridge to redo failed pavement fix

Pockmarks from peeling surface on Highway 50 over the Pioneer Bridge in Sacramento on Friday, April 21, 2017.
Pockmarks from peeling surface on Highway 50 over the Pioneer Bridge in Sacramento on Friday, April 21, 2017.

State highway officials say they will close lanes throughout the summer beginning Monday night on one of Sacramento’s busiest freeways to fix an earlier surfacing job that mysteriously failed.

Work on the Highway 50 bridge over the Sacramento River, also known as the Pioneer Memorial Bridge, will include up to six weekend-long lane closures. Officials warned weekend and weekday night drivers to expect delays.

The estimated cost of the project, $25 million, is roughly five times the cost of the original overlay, according to Caltrans estimates. It includes grinding off the flawed surface and then laying down a new surface.

Large portions of the original overlay have peeled off since it was installed in 2014, state Department of Transportation records show. Some ruts are more than 50 feet long and 7 feet wide, and deep enough to cause cars and trucks to shudder as they pass over.

Caltrans chief Malcolm Dougherty told The Bee in April that the higher cost is because the state will use a thicker material to avoid further problems, given uncertainty about the cause of the pockmarking.

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

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

The problem stems from work done in 2014 on both Highway 50 and Interstate 5 in downtown. Caltrans used a thick polyester concrete on I-5, but a thinner, less expensive mix of resin and rock aggregate on the Pioneer Bridge.

Pockmarks began forming on the bridge before the project was finished, according to state documents. Caltrans contractors patched the initial problem areas in 2015 and again in 2016, each time after rains. The patches, using an adhesive, appear to have worked. But this winter’s heavy rains caused new rutting in other areas.

Work on the bridge is scheduled to begin at 9 p.m. Monday, closing the eastbound and westbound interior shoulders and the No. 1 lane until 6 a.m. Night work will continue Monday through Friday until the project is completed, which will be before Labor Day, Caltrans officials said. Weekend work on the bridge is set to start at 9 p.m. July 21 and continue until 6 a.m. July 24. The weekend work will involve some lane closures.

“The department understands the frustration of the public, which is why we are looking forward to completing the repairs this year,” said acting Caltrans local district director Ray Zhang in a press statement issued Friday evening.

The question of what went wrong remains unexplained.

The initial contractor, Myers & Sons, commissioned an analysis that suggested several potential causes for the failure. The rest-and-aggregate 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 an issue with that particular surfacing product. He said Caltrans gave Myers a short list at the beginning of the project of several products to choose from.

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

However, Randy Slezak, a representative of the manufacturer, Kwik Bond Polymers of Benicia, said the product has worked without problem on other projects, including 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, have not responded to Bee requests for comment.

The lack of certainty on the cause prompted negotiations two years ago among 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 that rounds of repairs cost less than $1 million.

Caltrans signed a deal early last year agreeing that Myers is not responsible for any further fixes. The state also paid Myers $762,000 last year for extra work that had not been included in the original contract. It is unclear whether that work was related to the pockmark problem.

For its part, Myers agreed to drop other claims it had submitted for work that had not been covered in the original contract. Myers also agreed to give up any right to future claims against the state related to the bridge project.

Tony Bizjak: 916-321-1059, @TonyBizjak