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Large portions of a new surface applied to one of Sacramento’s main freeway bridges just last year at a cost of $26 million are peeling, leaving the freeway pockmarked and forcing the state Department of Transportation to do major repairs for the second year in a row.
Crews plan to go out next month after the rainy season to repave numerous failed sections on the Pioneer Memorial Bridge, which carries more than 100,000 vehicles daily on Highway 50 over the Sacramento River between Sacramento and West Sacramento.
The state and its lead contractor agree the work is under warranty – and so won’t cost the state money – although they have not reached a conclusion on what caused the problem or how much it will cost to fix.
The 2014 project, called Sac Decked Out, involved spreading a three-eighths-inch, multilayer polymer surface on the half-century-old bridge and connector ramps between Jefferson Boulevard on the west side and Fifth Street in Sacramento.
Caltrans issued a news release in January 2015 saying the project was finished and thanking drivers for putting up with months of nighttime lane closures.
Caltrans documents, however, show that some of the material already was breaking up in November 2014, just days after crews had finished putting the last of the new surface down.
Some of the ruts were 7 feet wide and stretched more than 100 feet, others were just a few feet in size. It forced Caltrans’ contractors into several months of repairs in multiple lanes. In total, 10 percent of the original project surface, or 130,000 square feet, was redone, Caltrans officials said.
More of the original surface material, however, began to break up again in December 2015 when winter rains hit. Caltrans documents show that new peeling was discovered as recently as last month, when a report noted that delamination on the ramp between southbound I-5 and eastbound Highway 50 was occurring “in both lanes and is getting bigger.”
“It’s frustrating,” said Clinton Myers, vice president of Myers & Sons Construction, the general contractor on the job. “Every time we drive by it, everyone is looking to see if anything else has come up.”
An analysis Myers commissioned last year suggested several possible causes: The material that was used may not have been up to the task. 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 so contaminated from vehicle oil and dirt that regular prep work wasn’t enough to allow the new material to bond.
Caltrans’ north region construction chief John Rodrigues said his department has not done a formal analysis of what went wrong, but he agrees it could be a combination of factors. Caltrans has successfully used the overlay product before, he said.
“We usually don’t have failures of this size,” Rodrigues said. “This is a product we’ve used for a few years, and it’s the first time we’ve had a major failure.”
Rodrigues said Caltrans won’t know how much more of the overlay needs replacing until crews are out there in May for repair. Bridge drive-overs by The Sacramento Bee this week showed numerous pockmarks on several freeway lanes in both directions, some of them appearing at least 50 feet long. The pockmarks are three-eighths of an inch deep, enough to cause a rumbling sensation under a car’s wheels.
Myers said the original overlay materials were chosen from a list of products Caltrans gave to contractors. Myers said his company had never used that product before and has since switched to a different product for the repairs, one with a primer or chemical that causes adhesion.
Caltrans’ Rodrigues said his agency agrees with that choice. “We think it is the best alternative.”
All of the repairs that Myers’ subcontractors did from November 2014 to May 2015 have been successful, Myers said. The new product “appears to be doing a better job. None of the repairs have failed.”
The $17.9 million construction contract the state signed with Myers & Sons includes a three-year warranty, at no cost to the state, for work that does not meet standards. Myers said the costs will be handled among subcontractors.
The Bee has a pending request, submitted to Caltrans in early March, for more documents about the issue, including correspondence about the repairs. Officials with the subcontractor that did the overlays, American Civil Contractors of Benicia, did not respond to a Bee request for comment.
An overlay that Myers & Sons placed on nearby Interstate 5 at the same time as part of the Sac Decked Out project has not had problems, officials said. Caltrans used a thicker polyester concrete material on I-5, but went with the thinner material on Highway 50, which allowed the agency to avoid the added costs of adjusting bridge expansion joints and raising the barrier rails.