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Traffic Jam May Cost Bridge Painter $24,000

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

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A Missouri painting contractor on an interstate bridge recoating project faces a $24,000 state fine after an equipment breakdown delayed reopening of the highway in time for the Monday morning rush hour.

Thomas Industrial Coatings, of Pevely, MO, was abrasive-blast cleaning bridge supports along a section of Interstate 64 in St. Louis on Sunday night (Oct. 17) when a “big vacuum system” being used for lead-paint clean-up broke down about midnight, Missouri Department of Transportation officials said.

The malfunction forced the contractor to “do a lot of cleanup manually that they weren’t planning to do,” said Tom Blair, MoDOT assistant district engineer.

As a result, the eastbound lanes into downtown that were supposed to reopen at 5 a.m. did not open until after 9 a.m. Monday, causing delays and backups for 30,000 to 50,000 vehicles, Blair said.

$1,500 for 15 minutes

The extended highway shutdown will trigger a Job Special Provision contract clause that allows MoDOT to impose a fine of up to $1,500 fine for every 15 minutes that the contractor remained on the road past the designated work time, officials said.

Officials said Tuesday (Oct. 19) that the exact amount of the fine would not be determined for several weeks.

Don Thomas, owner of Thomas Industrial Coatings, declined to comment on the issue Tuesday.

MoDOT officials emphasized that the contractor had not caused any problem intentionally. “It’s not like they weren’t trying to get it open,” said Blair.

“From what I understand, the contractor didn’t really do anything wrong,” he said. “They didn’t overextend their period of time and try to get more done than they should. They were working away.”

Nevertheless, Blair added, the state had agreed to completely shut down the interstate each weekend in order to get the job as quickly as possible. The reopening delay, no matter the reason, inconvenienced thousands of motorists and caused a mile-long backup.

‘You Want a Contingency Plan’

MoDOT has been putting the JSP clause into all of its interstate contracts, and not just for coatings work, said Matt Budd, district construction materials engineer.

“Unfortunately, you can’t plan for equipment breakdowns,” said Budd. “But they could have had additional equipment out there, or available nearby, as a backup. When you’re doing that critical work, you want to have a contingency plan.”

Blair agreed, saying the contractor had worked well and had “gotten a lot done” on the project.

“We’re not trying to run contractors out of business,” Blair said. But “at the end of the day, our customers—the taxpayers and motorists of Missouri—don’t really care about [why a delay occurred].”

‘Part of Our Team’

The clause is intended to make contractors “realize their impact on traffic,” said Blair. “They’re part of our team when they’re working for us, and we have a commitment to motorists and taxpayers. We broke that commitment to the public, and we take that seriously.”

The clause “has in general helped” contractors keep on schedule, Blair said.

“It’s a stick,” he said. “It does work. We’d rather use carrots, and we write those into our contracts as well. But we have to have a stick for certain situations.”

The stick will work in this case, Blair said.

“They’re definitely going to make sure this doesn’t happen again.”


Tagged categories: Air abrasive blast cleaning; Bridges; Contractors; Lead; Thomas Industrial Coatings

Comment from Don Thomas, (10/20/2010, 10:36 AM)

Great reporting on something negative. How many lives were saved by complete shutdown vs. one lane at a time?

Comment from Ron Cross, (10/20/2010, 11:28 AM)

I wonder if they fine STATE workers/employees as well for a problem that's not their fault and causes an inconvenience to the public. Do they give the fine money back to the taxpayers, since they were the ones inconvenienced? To make things fair, why don't they offer a $1500.00 bonus for every 15 minutes the contractor finishes ahead of schedule??

Comment from Doug Driscoll, Sr., (10/20/2010, 1:17 PM)

I believe the intent of the specification is to deter the contractor from trying to gain extra time on the highway so as to add production to his schedule, thereby increasing profits at the expense of the traveling public. This situation, as reported, is far from that reality. Does a contractor have to have another $600,000 worth of equipment standing by in the event of a major breakdown? The cost of doing lead abate work will skyrocket if this holds true.

Comment from Scott Meyer, (10/20/2010, 1:22 PM)

I agree with you Rob but it will never happen. Its always the contractors fault.

Comment from Ari Bouris, (10/20/2010, 9:14 PM)

As a lead abatement contractor, this individual which made the comment of having extra set of equipment on stand-by obviously has worked for the state system his whole life. He, as an employee for the state can have as much equipment as he needs and then some because, the tax payer is paying for them (which is us). He obviously does not have a clue what it takes to be in this or any business,with the overhead aquired, without having extra set of equipment on stand-by. If the state has the budget and are willing to double the prices per square foot then we can bring stand-by equipment.

Comment from Ari Bouris, (10/20/2010, 9:18 PM)

As a lead abatement contractor, this individual which made the comment of having extra set of equipment on stand-by obviously has worked for the state system his whole life. He, as an employee for the state can have as much equipment as he needs and then some because, the tax payer is paying for them (which is us). He obviously does not have a clue what it takes to be in this or any business,with the overhead aquired, without having extra set of equipment on stand-by. If the state has the budget and are willing to double the prices per square foot then we can bring stand-by equipment.

Comment from Bob DeNyse, (10/21/2010, 9:34 PM)

I think the fine is to deter contractors from pushing their production to the maximum, equipment breakdown can happen to even a new piece of equipment. This situation is not something that can be planned in, who knows when it will break and how much time it will cost. The big problem is if the state wants to force the issue, then they must be willing to accept the consequences of contractors raising their prices to cover a state who is not reasonable about issues and what the contractor must factor in for this type of problem. I agree the state does not have a clue what it takes to put extra equipment on the job. I am a lead abatement contractor and we do bridges also. I understand the situation that has happened and there are two sides that must be considered. If the state lets him off and the next contractor has another type of problem, then the state must treat every contractor the same. It is a tough problem for the state to decide what is right. I think the contractor should not be fined. It was unforeseen and that type of problem cannot be covered when a key piece of equipment fails.

Comment from John Benoit, (10/21/2010, 11:49 PM)

Not knowing the contractor in question, you don't know if he is always the lowest bidding contractor for this type of work. You can always be the lowest bidder and keep equipment up to par! Corners usually get cut somewhere.. a lot of times, it's lack of maintaining equipment. However, the question to ask is, did the contractor agree to a penalty clause for equipment failure under his contract terms? Or for any delay in time for that matter? If so, he had to have factored an allowence into the bid for this. Any contract where time is of the essence always carries a premium to do this type of work... Did he perhaps underbid the job to get it and not factor this in? Hopefully his E/O policy will cover this if he does get fined. But as the other contractors stated, he shouldn't be fined. This is an unforeseen delay that couldn't be prevented!

Comment from John Benoit, (10/21/2010, 11:50 PM)

That would be not knowing..too many days

Comment from Tom Schwerdt, (10/22/2010, 8:40 AM)

My, we seem to have a lot of contractors commenting here. The contractor in this case has a variety of options to deal with this contingency - we all know equipment breaks down from time to time. Re-opening at 5AM on Monday was apparently a critical part of this agreed-upon contract. The contractor could buy performance insurance, cost built into the bid. He could suit up a couple more men to vacuum while blasting is still taking place so you won't have piles of lead paint and grit if equipment breaks down (yes, it sucks for the guys vacuuming and you need to supply them with air too.) Take smaller bites of the project at a time. A spare vacuum unit (not a whole recycler) onsite certainly won't double your cost per square foot. Heck, even a whole recycler wouldn't double your cost per square foot. To avoid this particular problem you don't need to double all the equipment, just the minimum to get you offsite by 5AM Monday. When opening Monday at 5AM is critical to the performance of the contract, a contingency plan is necessary. These contracts are bid - you come up with your plan, and build it into the bid. Prayer is not a contingency plan.

Comment from Ari Bouris, (10/22/2010, 11:14 PM)

First of all, performance insurances cost money. One needs to look into how recyclers are built. One can not just place one or two EXTRA people to vacuum on a recycler when you already have a two man vacuuming. The majority of the newer recyclers are built for two people vacuuming. Even a new $550,000 recycler can only recycle so much grit per hour while vacuuming, and the rest of the additional grit would go into the wastebin and get mixed in with the lead waste dust. As far as a vacuum, again one does not just purchase a vac truck to keep on the side IN CASE. Again, that also costs money. Then, if one would look into the price tag on a good USED recycler it could range from $250,000-$350,000, and a new one is in the range of $450,000-$550,000 depending how many men can blast with it. All these extra things that it's implied that a contractor should have will become part of his or her overhead, and it would take years to pay off, with good profits. I know in our business our profits are not this great, let alone every year, and whoever thinks they are, they do not get the whole picture. If it was this easy and profitable, every one would become a bridge painter. Also, part of one's cost on a project includes performance bonds, OCP polices, auto policies, RR policies (if needed), Comp polices, SS benefits, cost involved with keeping the QP1-QP2 program, etc. Tell me again why prices should not double. Are you kidding me?

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