Colorado transportation officials have reached a $14 million settlement with a group of construction and design contractors two years after the collapse of a busy suburban section of U.S. 36 — one they’d expanded about five years earlier — snarled traffic for months.
The payout will reimburse the Colorado Department of Transportation for most of the $17.6 million it spent responding to and then quickly rebuilding the eastbound overpass approach near Church Ranch Boulevard in Westminster. In the July 2019 “slope failure,” officials have said, water-saturated clay sank in the embankment, causing the road’s pavement to crack and the retaining wall to sag and buckle.
Six million dollars will be paid to CDOT by a joint venture of Ames Construction and Granite Construction, which led the reconstruction and expansion of U.S. 36 between Denver and Boulder from 2012 to 2016. The expansion added a tolled express lane in each direction.
HDR Engineering and Kleinfelder, another design firm, each will pay $4 million, according to the settlement document. All four companies are based out of state. The settlement was finalized in recent weeks and released Friday in response to a public records request.
None of the companies admits liability for the collapse as part of the agreement, but the settlement heads off any legal action by the state that could have resulted in the Colorado Attorney General’s Office filing suit against the companies and seeking even more in damages. After the collapse, the document says, CDOT lodged claims against the Ames-Granite venture, sparking a cascade of claims of fault among the four companies.
A state-ordered forensic investigation into what caused the failure has not yet been released. A CDOT lawyer said the document will be available as soon as next week.
CDOT spokesman Matt Inzeo said the settlement bars the department from commenting except to say that all parties were pleased they had resolved the matter without resorting to litigation.
In July 2020, after a year had passed with little word on what caused the collapse, state Rep. Matt Gray, a Democrat representing neighboring Broomfield, told The Denver Post that “whoever is responsible does need to answer to the folks who spent hours of additional time in traffic away from their families because of a preventable mistake.”
During the repair period, both directions of traffic shared the westbound side of the highway, causing bottlenecks. The rebuilt section reopened to traffic in October 2019, nearly three months after the collapse.
CDOT recently released a breakdown of the response and repair costs on its website. The settlement payments will reimburse $14 million in costs that include the removal of the collapsed wall, stabilization of the site, installation of more than 3,600 cubic yards of concrete, the drilling of deep caissons as part of a new support structure, the use of 275,000 pounds of steel, and more than 20,000 man-hours of labor.
Not covered by the settlement are $3.5 million in additional costs that went to speed up the rebuilding project. Facing the soil challenges, CDOT opted to stack 24,000 cubic yards of large geofoam blocks inside the embankment, rather than fill dirt. CDOT officials said at the time that the blocks would better bear the weight of the new highway section while posing less risk of sinking.
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