I-35 road repair has resulted in injuries and damages to dozens of vehicles

ODOT calls the repairs on I-35 "minor bumps," but some drivers call it a major safety hazard (Phil Cross/KOKH).

It is a bumpy ride for anyone traveling North on I-35 from the north side of Oklahoma City through Edmond. The bumps, believe it or not, are there on purpose as part of a rehabilitation project aimed at extending the life of that stretch of highway.

However, the repair process is not sitting well with many drivers.

“When my wife and I were coming north bound and we were in that middle lane,” explained Steven Converse, “It almost threw her off the [motorcycle].”

Converse is one of several Oklahomans who wrote to the Oklahoma Department of Transportation after hitting the construction zone. “It is a disaster to motorcyclists who are at high risk anyway when they hit a pot hole or hit a road surface that is not taken care of properly,” Converse told FOX 25. “This is just real poor quality work; I don't think the taxpayers should accept this kind of poor quality work.”

Through an open records request, FOX 25 found dozens of people complaining about the road repairs and the damage caused to vehicles. Included in the complaints was a two-page letter from the Oklahoma Department of Public Safety. The DPS identified multiple instances in which repairs put the public in danger.

In one incident, the DPS noted a piece of construction debris flew through the window of a man’s car. The debris’ impact led to injuries which required an ambulance to take him to the hospital.

On another day, the DPS said it was involved in incidents involving 12-18 cars which suffered extreme tire damage from one of the repairs after asphalt filling in a section of the road had caved in, causing a road hazard.

The DPS letter called on ODOT to take more responsibility for the contractor on the project. The letter indicated it was likely that more people could be injured due to problems with the site.

“Most of the claims had to deal with an incident with the temporary panels,” said Trenton January, the Division 4 Construction and Maintenance Engineer for the Urban Area with the Oklahoma Department of Transportation.

“That was due to how the contractor had spaced the temporary panels,” January said of the incident that resulted in nearly 20 cars reporting severe tire damage. “[The contractor] let their spacing get a little bit too wide and they were filling it with asphalt.”

That asphalt contracted with the Oklahoma heat and combined with traffic on the road, January said it created the hazard reported by the DPS. January said ODOT ordered the contractor to close off the lane and repair the temporary panel.

However, January said that ODOT is supposed to be on sight each time a contractor does work on a highway and must sign off on any repairs. Which would have included the state inspector signing off on the temporary filling of road panels with asphalt even as temperatures rose.

“It seems like someone should have known, hey it's going to get hot tomorrow this might be a problem,” FOX 25’s Phil Cross asked of ODOT about who signed off on the temporary fix that resulted in a public safety concern. “Yeah,” January responded, “That is one thing that we addressed with the contractor was this isn't working and we need to change our plan of how we are doing this.”

Now, only pre-cast panels put back when the old damaged panels are taken out. However, even that fix isn’t smooth. Each panel sits above the current roadway and has resulted in a bumpy ride. Our camera observed trucks, trailers and cars literally bouncing up and down as they went over the patches.

“They are minor bumps in the road,” January said of the repairs, “We are going to come back with the diamond grind and smooth the road out at the very end.”

The diamond grinding process is a specialty in the road construction industry and only a handful of contractors provide the service. For this repair, the contractor is subcontracting the finishing work to a grinding company from Minnesota who were not scheduled to arrive until the end of summer.

These bumps, described by members of the public as “a disaster” but by ODOT as “minor,” are only adding to concerns of drivers in the metro who already pay more because of poor roads.

In 2017 TRIP, a national highway research group, released a report that found 79-percent of the state-maintained roads in Oklahoma City’s urban area were in “poor or mediocre condition.” That report analyzed data and determined Oklahoma City drivers spend, on average “an additional $832 each year in extra vehicle operating costs, including accelerated vehicle depreciation, additional repair costs, and increased fuel consumption and tire wear.”

“Generally we don't want there to be any damage to any vehicles,” January said of the amount of vehicles damaged by this construction project, “But in an active work zone there are going to be the possibility of there being damage to vehicles in that work zone.”

“It's just a hazard,” Converse said “It shouldn't be expected of the taxpayers to spend your money this w ay and have this kind of poor quality work.”

Adding to driver frustrations has been the response from ODOT. One driver, who declined an on camera interview but shared pictures and the replacement bill for his four blownout tires said his attempt to get answers resulted in “the runaround.” According to the records received by FOX 25 show the agency responded with a similarly worded response to every complaint. Drivers we spoke with called the tone, dismissive.

FOX 25 asked January if any of the motorists who were injured or suffered damages to their vehicles were owed an apology by the state.

“I would apologize,” January said, “I would apologize because we do care about the traveling public out there.”

ODOT said it is working to make the construction site safer. The entire goal of the project is to rehabilitate the roadway to make it last until the state has the money to entirely replace the roadway.

Drivers will now notice the speed limit has been lowered to lessen the stress on vehicles as they hit the “minor bumps” and it has required the contractor to put out signs warning motorcycles in particular of the rough ride ahead. FOX 25 confirmed there are two small signs in the far left lane prior to the construction now.

says it is working to make the path safer - they've lowered the speed limit and had the contractor add

ODOT also said the contractor has agreed to speed up the process of bringing in the company responsible for grinding the panels to the same level as the existing roadway. Instead of coming at the end of summer, they should be here in a few weeks.

In the meantime, ODOT has instructed anyone who has complained about damage to vehicles to contact the contractor about reimbursement. According to ODOT's contractual guidelines contractors are required to take out an insurance policy and pay off claims while keeping the state free from lawsuits resulting in damage or injury from any work zone.

Still though, until the road is smoothed out, the only solution to not enduring the bumps which can cause additional wear-and-tear on your vehicle, is to just avoid the area.

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