Fiasco

 

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The Maguire Group had been hired to oversee the construction. Its participation in the project may seem surprising since for a portion of the 1990s it was actually banned from Connecticut road work projects after problems with federal prosecutors, and after one of its executives was sentenced to prison for bribing a government official. Nevertheless, ConnDOT management chose Maguire to be in charge of I-84 inspection for a fee of $6 million.

In any event, tensions at the worksite developed when, during a dispute over workmanship, the Maguire resident engineer, Peter Pardee, evidently hurled a number of expletives at the DeFelice construction supervisor. To calm things, ConnDOT stepped in with a solution. Pardee's job of field inspection oversight would go to another Maguire employee, William Fritz.

Fritz is first selectman for the town of Clinton. His mother, Mary Fritz, is a longtime state representative from the 90th District, representing Cheshire and Wallingford, as well as the deputy speaker of the House. The elevation of William Fritz to the role of field inspection oversight was significant because, according to the Knowles/Hill report, he had falsified his qualifications.

Fritz initially claimed to have 30 years experience in his field when, in fact, he had only 17. He also claimed to have a Level IV certification from NICET, a nationally recognized program for engineering technology. ConnDOT never bothered to check his background, however, and awarded him a salary commensurate with his supposed Level IV certification.

Apparently, Fritz never achieved Level IV. In fact, shortly before ConnDOT approved his pay raise, NICET notified Fritz that his Level IV candidacy would not be forthcoming because he had violated its code of ethics. The violation, NICET said, included false claims documenting his work experience. This wasn't the first time this had happened, either. In March 1996, Fritz had received a reprimand for an identical violation. This time, however, the penalty went beyond a reprimand. NICET suspended his certification "pending a satisfactory resolution." Fritz revealed nothing of this to ConnDOT. According to the Knowles/Hill report, Maguire's president, Richard Repeta, also knew of Fritz's suspension but did not come forward. Thus, Fritz, who had misrepresented himself and did not meet job requirements, was now in direct control of the I-84 project's field inspection.

It could be argued that the scandal of I-84 would not have occurred under the eye of a ConnDOT project engineer who was solely dedicated to the job. The task fell to Jim Riutto, a 20-year ConnDOT veteran considered one of the agency's best. His job, in effect, was to shepherd things along. Riutto contends that management made that impossible when it violated its own policy by assigning him to three projects at the same time. He claims the resulting paperwork left little opportunity to witness actual construction.

Riutto later told a legislative Transportation Committee hearing in Hartford, "I requested a change so I could work a 40-hour week instead of the standard 35. I was denied that and was told point blank it was Maguire's job, not mine, to do inspection." Curiously, no committee member followed up by asking Riutto precisely who had given him this response.

Back out on the highway, as change orders and cost overruns continued to mount, so did signs of more trouble. Among them was the bridge deck that required a complete rebuilding. There was also a videotape produced by a subcontractor showing badly aligned drainpipes, which presaged the more extensive problems later uncovered.

Fiasco

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