PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — A blatant falsification of records. That’s how a VDOT official describes what a local contractor did, on one of the biggest highway projects in Hampton Roads.
It was too much for one of the employees to keep under wraps, so he blew the whistle and came to 10 On Your Side. The subcontractor Roadside, Inc. installs what’s called underdrains. They directly affect the life of the roadway.
The contractor has to certify by using special video cameras that they are properly installed. The whistle blower told us, and we confirmed with VDOT, that for the crucial widening project of I-64 on the Peninsula those quality assurance videos were faked.
The recent widening of I-64 in the Yorktown Lee Hall area has undoubtedly helped the flow of traffic.
But the flow of water away from the road’s foundation is far less certain. Unlike the storm water drains that channel water away from the road surface, underdrain piping moves water away from the road’s foundation.
“We’ve always did questionable things, because on a lot of jobs we’re hired to put it in and then inspect it ourself,” said Lucius Alston, who spent eight years as a foreman with Roadside. He says Roadside was required to get video of every linear foot of underdrain pipe installed, to make sure it’s unobstructed. On previous jobs, that often wasn’t the case.
“It would be crushed, it would have stone in it, it would be egg-shaped, or it would be full of sludge.”
And according to Alston, Roadside began to cut corners. For Segment Two of the I-64 widening project, which runs roughly from Exit 242 (Humelsine Parkway) to Exit 247 (Yorktown Road), Roadside submitted bogus stock video of clear pipe, instead of the actual pipe they installed.
“We would video a good piece and we’d submit that for the wrong, for the messed up piece. That’s how we would cover it up. We would throw away the bad video and say it was something else.”
Alston quit Roadside this spring, and contacted VDOT and the federal government about what he knew.
“Clearly the subcontractor submitted false reporting, false quality control videos to the prime contractor,” said VDOT District Engineer Chris Hall, who confirmed Alston’s claims. “It’s pretty blatant. When we did look at them, there was no question that these were copies of about ten different videos.”
We searched for Roadside owner Bobby Dean at his home near the water on the Peninsula, at his place of business and by phone, but got no response.
Alston said Dean directed him to falsify the video records, and he went along at first because he said he had no choice. “I’m doing what the owner told me to do, or I’m not gonna have no job.”
The prime contractor for the 64 widening is Allan Myers, which hired Roadside as a subcontractor.
“When it was brought to us that Roadside had submitted potentially falsified video, we took that very seriously,” said Shannon Moody, Public Relations Manager for Allan Myers.
So seriously in fact that Allan Myers fired one of its own workers who knew about the bogus videos.
“Unfortunately they did not raise a red flag,” Moody said. “They did not report it to their supervisor, and that employee no longer works for us.” Allan Myers fired Roadside as one of its subs.
Hall says the potential consequence of bad or blocked underdrains is shorter road life and more maintenance, driving up costs for taxpayers. However Hall adds that drivers are not in danger.
“This is in no way connected to the storm water system. This is that foundational drainage system that will not impact the safety and use of the road.”
The prime contractor is taking responsibility for double checking all of the underdrain pipe that Roadside installed on the project.
“We are doing a full video re-inspection of the 120,000 feet of pipe,” Moody said. “We’ll put together a full comprehensive plan for any issues that need to be addressed and we will address those immediately.”
VDOT says it’s reviewing Roadside’s past work and the firm is being investigated.
“The subcontractor is under federal investigation and when that’s completed, there’ll be a determination of whether they’re taken off a statewide bidder’s list, or any further action that the agency would take against them,” Hall said.
VDOT is already changing how early in the process it reviews subcontractor work, so it will look at video inspections earlier in the project timeline as opposed to waiting until the final closeout phase.
VDOT says companies doing the work will no longer police themselves. “We’re no longer allowing those subcontractors to self-perform on [quality control)]. It’s a better way to keep folks honest,” Hall said.
Allan Myers says it has held back an undisclosed amount of money from Roadside because it is in default of its contract.
VDOT says taxpayers will not have to cover the cost of any underdrain pipe that would need to be repaired or replaced.