Windshields broken; drivers say promises were, too

EVERETT — When a rock flew up off I-5 and cracked the windshield on Mark Thacker’s car, he thought someone should pay to fix the damage.

It was September and I-5 in Everett was torn up. The state was in the middle of a major repaving and widening project. Large sections of old pavement were scraped away, leaving deep grooves that rattled the 170,000 vehicles per day that drove down the road.

In October, Thacker, who works in Everett and lives in Kirkland, filed a damage claim with the state Department of Transportation. He asked for $300 to repair his windshield. He was one of 62 who filed such claims during the paving project that lasted from August to October.

State Transportation officials don’t know how many of those claims were paid or turned down because they were all passed on to contractor Atkinson CH2M Hill, which then turned many of them over to Rinker Materials, the Everett-based subcontractor that was in charge of sweeping the road during paving.

Atkinson CH2M Hill has paid some claims and turned down others, said Dave Doles, the company’s project manager. He wouldn’t say how many of the 62 complaints were paid.

No one from Rinker Materials was immediately available for comment.

For Thacker, it’s been too much of a runaround.

“So far nobody seems to want to take responsibility for the damage to the vehicles,” Thacker said.

Thacker received a letter for Rinker Materials in late November telling him that “unfortunately, the information in your claim fails to explain negligence on the part of Rinker Materials.”

Rinker also provide Thacker a copy of a letter it sent to Atkinson CH2M Hill explaining that it had rejected 27 windshield and vehicle claims because rock chips “generated with (asphalt) grinding operations were properly disposed of by Rinker Materials.”

The letter went on to say that Rinker had done everything that Atkinson CH2M Hill asked of it in its contract.

Doles did not comment on Rinker’s decision to refuse the 27 claims. He said his company considers each complaint individually.

Patty Michaud, a spokeswoman with the Transportation Department who works closely with Atkinson CH2M Hill, said the company is reviewing the 27 claims Rinker rejected.

The state takes damage claims such as Thacker’s seriously, said John Milton, the Transportation Department’s director of risk management.

“We tender the claim over (to the contractor),” Milton said. “What we hope and what we expect from them is that they look at the claims in a reasonable manner and pay those if they have responsibility for it. I’m sure there have been some claims that have been paid.”

Milton said the state’s process for drivers to file with the state or contractor to pay for damage to their vehicle appears to be working well.

“That doesn’t mean the department doesn’t work to improve the way we do things,” he said. “We’re always looking for ways to improve. I personally sympathize with everybody who files a claim.”

Milton said claims do and should be rejected because there is not always evidence that proves the damage was caused by construction work. He said those who file claims should collect as much information as possible about the incident to improve their chances.

Reporter Lukas Velush: 425-339-3449 or lvelush@heraldnet.com.

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