NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) - WAVY.com has uncovered hundreds of emails detailing the pothole disaster on Interstate 264 from the Virginia Department of Transportation.
Three weeks ago WAVY.com began reporting on several damaged cars along Interstate 264 after hitting giant potholes that had been improperly patched, and then exposed during heavy rains.
WAVY News' Andy Fox read 621 emails detailing the disaster of Feb. 8. The emails expose what VDOT knew and when they knew it. The investigation shows VDOT knew months before Feb. 8.
VDOT employee Stephen Boyce emailed when he saw the potholes, "I have never seen so many potholes. Chunks of pothole debris all over the roadway and flying up on cars. I realize we are putting a band aid on arterial bleeding but something needs to be done ASAP."
When that VDOT worker made that observation, it was too late.
After reading the 621 emails from VDOT, it is clear VDOT knew for months about the pothole problem, and lived with it, and accepted it from the pothole contractor TME Enterprises. VDOT is ultimately responsible for the work, and must answer to taxpayers.
On Jan. 2, John Jacobs who is a VDOT District Maintenance Engineer wrote about a pothole emergency on Interstate 264 a full month before the February emergency.
"Emergency situation...we are one team and need to make sure everyone is synchronized...can TME solve on your own so this is a very rare, if ever, future occurrence?"
Jan. 30, a motorist got two flats and wrote, "264 is a complete disaster...disgrace...WAAAAY to long for this to be ignored...FIX THE FREAKING ROADS!!!!"
Feb. 6, two days before pothole Friday, "Please fill these potholes!...uncomfortable going to work..these roads used to be so beautiful."
The first complaint on pothole Friday came in on Feb. 8. A VDOT worker emails VDOT Claims at 9:51a.m. "Caller hit pothole...She also called six months ago to file claim for the same area...never heard back from anyone. Can someone please call her back?"
Even after that, t he big blow-off from VDOT's Raymond Culpepper who is the Road Contract Administrator wrote, "Make contact with this individual as per their claim within two days as per the contract."
Even after all that, Culpepper wants the two day grace period to respond.
Commonwealth Transportation Board Member Aubrey Layne told WAVY.com, "We put out a press release we are going to be working all weekend to fix the potholes. I rode at 7:30 a.m. in the morning and no one was working."
Layne then writes a scathing email to VDOT Commissioner Gregory Whirley calling the pothole fiasco, "Management failure...we should have known this situation would happen...temporary patches do not hold up under wet and cold conditions...behind the curve. We did not even close the highway in a timely manner...these are management issues and self inflicted."
Layne told WAVY.com, "We were not prepared with assets ready to be deployed."
As WAVY.com read through the emails, what stands out is there are almost no emails involving former District Administrator Dennis Heuer who retired under pressure after how he handled the fiasco.
In a Feb. 12 email it took VDOT's Chief Engineer Garrett Moore to tell Heuer "Write TME requesting attention to the pothole claims at the most senior level of the company and asking for a weekly update to VDOT."
Under mounting political pressure, the emails show after five days into the pothole disaster VDOT is finally taking over the damage complaints.
The emails show VDOT reactive not proactive, and slow to respond. On the day of the disaster it took VDOT all day to request an "imminent hazard declaration" allowing emergency concrete work to begin on Interstate 264.
An email from VDOT Commissioner Gregory Whirley who rode Interstate 264 on Feb. 10 told Heuer to "tell the guys I know they are working hard and take pride in what they do." Whirley does not write about the road conditions.
The emails include VDOT preparing for interviews with WAVY.com making sure they have talking points. The City of Norfolk is looking for talking points, too. This exchange could symbolize the entire VDOT Culture problem:
Heather Robinson, Norfolk's VDOT Program Manager, emails Bryant Porter with VDOT on why concrete work done in the Interstate 264 westbound lane last year wasn't pulled over into the eastbound lane which could have prevented the pothole fiasco.
Robinson writes, "What response can we provide to citizens and others on why VDOT let the concrete project run out of money on Interstate 264 west without transferring money onto that previous job to finish the job out in the eastbound lane."
This is where critics say the culture problem comes in. The VDOT employee, Bryant Porter who gets Robinson's email then sends it to his superior, said, "I defer this inquiry to you for response."
Up the food chain it goes, and that guy writes to the next guy up the chain, "You may want to look into this for a prepared response
in [the next boss up the chain's] absence."
These 621 emails are very important in understanding VDOT, and how it responds to a catastrophe.
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