I-35 construction project leaves drivers with tire blowouts, headaches

OKLAHOMA CITY - For months drivers have been complaining about an I-35 construction project between I-35 northbound between 122nd and Memorial Road.

Lieutenant Colonel, Nick Schindler, says it happened so fast.

“It hit real hard, jerked the wheel in my hand it hit so hard,” he said.

When he got home he was greeted by a big bulge protruding from his front left tire.

He's not alone.

All four of Patrick Fuller's tires were busted right from their wheel.

Just like Nick, Patrick was heading northbound in the middle lane of I-35 near the Kilpatrick Turnpike.

He credits his extra-durable run-flat tires with saving his life.

“Going 60 to 65 miles an hour like that blowing out all 4 tires at one time, I would have gone airborne and more than likely the people beside me would have been impacted by it.”

One of ODOT’s Division Engineers, Brian Taylor, tells the In Your Corner team the hard bumps were the result of crews using temporary concrete panels to patch the road.

He added, “As a result of the rain and heavy traffic volume and the loads from those traffic volumes those panels began to move and once those panels moved it increased the roughness.”

While the state pays for the project, it hired independent contractor, Duit Construction, to do the actual work.

Even though this was Duit's work zone, the only way a lane gets reopened is when an ODOT field inspector gives it the green light.

“Obviously we're never going to open a highway that is in unsafe condition,” Taylor said. “This particular instance once we were notified there were issues we immediately went out and responded.”

We know this isn't the only temporary fix that's failed along this same work zone.

Less than two weeks after Patrick and Nick's cars were damaged, another temporary patch failed, causing a massive pothole along this same stretch of i-35, leaving more than a dozen drivers with tire blowouts.

“When the patch was put in, the highway was safe,” Taylor said. “It was in good condition.”

The Oklahoma Department of Public Safety was so concerned they sent ODOT a two page letter stating the repairs put drivers in danger and ODOT had to take immediate action.

Taylor says by the time ODOT received the letter, they had already taken quick and appropriate action to shut down the roadway and make repairs.

Duit echoed that sentiment saying as soon as they received notice of the failure, they immediately dispatched crews to make emergency repairs.

Patrick's road hazard warranty covered most of the cost to replace his four ruined tires.

Nick, however, tried filing a damage claim, but quickly ran into another road block.

ODOT is not at fault.

He said, “ODOT says because of the laws in place, the contractor does assume liability within work zone, so he is accountable for all claims within that area.”

Duit Construction initially said it wasn't their fault either.

They later changed their mind when nick filed a complaint with Duit's insurance.

“And then magically the next day I got an email from Duit we're going to offer you $350, basically to make this matter go away,” he recalled. “You have ‘til three o'clock on Friday to sign it, otherwise the offer is void.”

That offer only covered the alignment work to Nick's car and one tire replacement, but not the leak in his second tire.

Duit Construction refused to answer our questions on-camera, but did offer an apology to drivers, saying they remain committed to the safety of the public and are working quickly to mitigate any safety concerns.

They say they received 30 claims in all and paid most of them, handling them "quickly, efficiently, and fairly."

Nick felt like he had no choice but to take Duit's settlement, because the father of two is deploying next month for active duty and didn't have time to wait to fight for a full reimbursement.

He said, “They made me an offer, about 60 percent of what it actually took to completely repair the car and i figured that's better than nothing.”

Duit says their offer was based on information they received from Nick and because the repair shop couldn't find a leak, they did not compensate him for the second tire.

ODOT says it will continue to work with Duit on projects, but will not use the same temporary patches and panels on future urban interstate projects that wreaked havoc on our roadways.

Taylor said, “Safety is our number one priority and we strive to improve and get better every day.”