State blamed for Glenn Highway woes near Sutton

Posted: Monday, December 16, 2002

WASILLA (AP) -- A section of the Glenn Highway near Sutton rebuilt just two years ago is failing.

The state Department of Transportation estimates it will cost about $1.2 million to repair the quarter-mile stretch near Mile 58, where an embankment is giving way under the road and alongside it.

The slumping has caused long cracks in the highway and undermined a guardrail at a pullout.

Residents say the state allowed the contractor to use inadequate fill under the road. They say the company dumped trees and silt scraped from an adjoining hillside into the roadbed and onto the embankment.

''We saw them put it there,'' said Roberta Mason, a retired university professor and secretary of the local community council. ''Everybody who knows anything about building roads tells me that's wrong.''

Quality Asphalt Paving of Anchorage did the highway work for the state. The company's general manager, Jon Fuglestad, said his crews did use some excavated material in its work, but all of it was approved by the state. None of the material included trees, he said.

State officials say the contractor is not to blame.

The road is failing because of a weak silt layer in the soil that lies far beneath any roadwork that was done, said Tom Moses, a state highway construction supervisor who oversaw the state's investigation into what happened. The state knew about the silt layer beforehand, but didn't think it was a problem, Moses said.

''A lot of this is hindsight, 20-20,'' he said. ''In this case, it wasn't picked up.''

The two-year $7.5 million project to straighten and widen the highway from Mile 55 to Mile 61 was completed in the summer of 2000. The problems started almost immediately.

Jagged cracks stretching several hundred feet snaked up and down the road at the pullout near Mile 58 as the embankment gradually gave way. In other places, rain eroded the steep banks abutting the highway, undermining guardrails and, in one case, spilling dirt into a resident's yard.

Crews have patched the cracks a couple times, and put in concrete barriers at the pullout to keep motorists away from the unstable edge. They've also brought in boulders to brace areas where the banks are eroding.

But the problem stretch needs regular upkeep, said Kurt Devon, the area's DOT maintenance superintendent. Some of the barriers are starting to slip off the edge of the road and may need to be moved.

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