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Watchdog: Cracks in new street worry retired jogger

By By Game Semenza -
Oct. 25, 2011 at 5:25 a.m.

Cracking on the newly remodeled Sam Houston Drive near Mockingbird Lane has caused at least one resident to worry about poor workmanship.

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To submit questions, e-mail watchdog@vicad.com or call Advocate Public Service Editor Gabe Semenza at 361-580-6519. No topic is off-limits.

Sherry Stewart, a 78-year-old retired Victoria professional, still jogs six days each week.

It is because of her early-morning exercise regimen that she was close enough to view cracks along a newly remodeled street.

In recent days, Stewart jogged along Sam Houston Drive, a once-aged Victoria street undergoing a two-year, $18 million overhaul. As she neared the intersection of Mockingbird Lane, Stewart noticed cracks that formed in the new sections of Sam Houston Drive.

"I'm worried that the taxpayers had to spend millions of dollars on a new road, and now we're going to have to foot the bill to fix shoddy work," Stewart said. "Someone needs to be held accountable."

That the street is new only worries Stewart even more. Many of the cracks, some of which span several feet, appear jagged and random.

Those cracks, however, appear to have been expected all along. In fact, the street is designed to accommodate them.

The new portions of Sam Houston Drive were installed using continuously reinforced concrete, a design that uses steel reinforcement but no expansion or contraction joints. Thus, such random surface cracking is deemed OK, according to the Federal Highway Administration.

The steel rebar holds the cracks tightly together and protects against water penetration and spalling.

"What we found is it's a stronger concrete design," Kenneth Gill, a City of Victoria engineer, said. "If you pour the concrete with panels and expansion joints, they tend to shift and move independently - and then you get lifts. Continuously reinforced concrete is better used on arterials and streets with higher traffic volumes."

Such design is used for much of the country's freeways and highways, and even on other oft-traveled Victoria streets - Laurent and portions of Ben Jordan streets, as well as Lone Tree Road.

The concrete design, including the eight-inch cement stabilized base, is 18 inches thick - as opposed to a typical residential street, which is 11 inches thick in all.

"This was decided for longevity," Gill said. "We want this street to be there for its 30-year life. You'll still have to do maintenance to it, but won't have the maintenance needs of a typical asphalt road."

Gill and his staff will perform in coming weeks a preliminary inspection of the newly-formed sections of Sam Houston Drive to determine if the cracking is normal or caused by poor workmanship or materials.

If the cracking is normal, then nothing will be done.

If the cracks formed because of some wrongdoing by the contractor, the company must fix them on its dime. The street work is under warranty until one year after the job is done. The two-year project began in October 2010 and should be done by this time next year.

Telephone calls to SER Construction Partners, the Pasadena contractor, went unreturned. Has the company inspected these cracks? Are they par for the course?

Gill sounded confident when he said they likely are normal. He also invited the Advocate to join him for the preliminary inspection. He will perform a final inspection once all work is done.

"This design has been tested over many, many, many years and these cracks most often do not effect the integrity or longevity of the street," Gill said.

Gabe Semenza is the Public Service Editor for the Advocate. Comment on this story at VictoriaAdvocate.com.

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