Chipped, cracked and even smashed. Across Kuna, drivers are looking at dinged-up paint, windshields that need replacing, and – in at least one case – a smashed window, all caused by last summer’s seal coat on Meridian Road.
“Not only have we had all three of our cars chipped, my mom and I were driving to town when a car going the opposite way shot a rock into the driver’s side passenger window shattering it. Talk about scary and annoying,” said Kuna resident Melinda Tucker, joining a dialog that began Saturday after the Kuna Melba News posted information about where to file a claim on its Facebook page.
“We have called this number and left (our) number with no return call,” she said. “So I sure hope they do make things right like they keep saying they are going to.”
She’s not alone.
The Facebook post, and repost the following day, received 1083 views, 54 comments, 53 shares and 36 likes.
Many are angry and disappointed, while others say they’re getting a satisfactory response—and getting their vehicles repaired.
It all began last summer when a seal coating project got underway on the 8.5 mile stretch of Meridian Road between I-84 and Kuna.
Although no one, at this point, is saying what went wrong or why, Idaho Transportation Department (ITD), the contractor, and a large number of Kuna drivers agree on one thing: rocks that should have been sealed into the roadway are, instead, being shot in all directions by traffic on the road, and those rocks are causing all kinds of damage. Something definitely went wrong.
According to ITD spokesman Reed Hollinshead, the company hired to do the work—Sierra Nevada Construction of Sparks, Nevada—is contractually obligated to cover the cost of repairs for those who file a claim.
The contractor is also responsible for correcting the problem on Meridian Road, although, again, no one is saying exactly how and when that might happen.
A number of factors, said Hollinshead, need to be considered.
First, a successful seal coat is applied in hot dry weather when oil mixed with asphalt used in seal coating can reach a certain temperature, separate, and form an effective seal.
Second, ITD is still investigating why the seal failed in the first place.
“It could be any number of things,” Hollinshead said. “It would be foolhardy of us to assign a cause until we know for sure. We want to make sure whatever it was that failed is not a factor down the road.”
Since the work is under warranty, the contractor has an obligation to fix it at no additional cost to the state, Hollinshead added, noting he wanted to “reassure folks” that no additional ITD or taxpayer funds would be spent to correct the problem.
Vehicle damage related to seal-coating projects on Idaho roadways is not a new issue.
“Every time we do seal coating we have some problems and there are a few claims,” Hollinshead said. “This one is getting a lion’s share of attention.”
Seal coating—Ada County Highway District (ACHD) calls it “chip sealing,” but the approach is essentially the same—is applied to state roadways on a rotating basis.
The process begins by applying a layer of liquid asphalt to the road’s surface, followed by a cover coat of rolled-in rock chips. Once the rock adheres to the road surface, the route is broomed to remove excess material.
Regardless of whether it’s called chip sealing or seal coating, the process is used by both ITD and ACHD, and both organizations say it is both a safety and efficiency measure that provides better traction, helps seal roadway surface against moisture and extends the life of the highway.
In addition to the stretch between I-84 and Kuna, Sierra Nevada Construction contracted with ITD for several other seal coat projects under a $2.82 million contract last summer. To his knowledge, Hollingshead said, none of the other projects had serious issues.
“Even though $2.82 million is a big chunk of change, it is a maintenance measure,” he said. “If we didn’t do it, we’d be rebuilding roads a lot more frequently, and that’s about a four-or-five-fold expense.”
For now, ITD says it has stepped up efforts to keep the road swept.
“I believe we’re on a weekly schedule,” Hollinshead said. “We’ve been out there sweeping several times already, and I would think that would continue at a minimum of two to three times each week, unless the situation calls for more than that.”
WHY HIRE AN OUT-OF-STATE CONTRACTOR?
Even at a time when many are pushing toward “supporting the local economy,” Hollinshead said ITD’s hands are tied when it comes to hiring a contractor.
“Our budget is on a low-bid basis,” he said. “Even if the low-bidder is out of state, we are obligated by law to go with that contractor.”
A change, he noted, would require action at the state government level.
From his out-of-state Sparks, Nevada office, Sierra Nevada Construction CFO Mark Well, like Hollinshead, said it’s “too early to tell” what went wrong and caused the seal coat to fail.
Although he didn’t know how many damage claims had been filed thus far, Well said the company is doing what it can to address ongoing damage caused by rock chips on the roadway.
“We’re sweeping it,” he said Monday. “We actually have a crew out there to sweep today.”
Like ITD, he added, the company sweeps during nighttime hours to avoid traffic problems.
The Chicago-based CNA Insurance Company is handling claims for vehicle damage caused by last summer’s failed seal coat project on Meridian Road between I-84 and Kuna. To file a claim, call CNA at 1-877-262-2727.