M-6 crumbling years ahead of schedule

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WYOMING, Mich. (WOOD) — Concrete is crumbling on a stretch of M-6 south of Grand Rapids just a dozen years after the $700 million highway opened. State transportation officials say it crumbled years before it should have.

The three-mile stretch in question is between Wilson Avenue in Kent County and Jackson Street in Ottawa County. In 2018, the Michigan Department of Transportation plans to spend $10 million to tear out and start over on that stretch.

“That pavement on M-6 should have lasted a decade longer,” John Richard, MDOT spokesman, told 24 Hour News 8. “Unfortunately, it sticks out like a sore thumb. It is rare for pavement to behave this way.”

The nearly 20-mile highway was completed in 2004 connecting Interstate 196 in Ottawa County to Interstate 96 in Cascade Township. The warranty through Ajax Paving, the contractor for the concrete stretch of the highway, expired in November 2011.

But a final warranty inspection by MDOT, obtained by 24 Hour News 8 through the Freedom of Information Act, shows MDOT raised concerns about joints in the concrete and other problems back then. However, MDOT officials said they couldn’t find documents that showed whether it followed through on that until 2015, when MDOT created a letter saying the work needed wasn’t covered under the warranty.

A state auditor general’s report last year criticized MDOT for not following up on warranties.

“It was well past the warranty,” Richard said. “I’m not even sure if that type of work would have been covered under the warranty.”

State transportation officials blamed the failure on a key ingredient in concrete. When it was built, there was a shortage in the natural resin used in highway concrete, the stuff that adds bubbles and helps it withstand big swings in temperatures, Richard said. That’s because more of it was being sold to the cosmetic industry, he said. He said that forced the industry to use synthetic resin, which hadn’t been perfected.

“All these cold states that have freeze-thaw cycles experienced this pavement that had premature deterioration,” Richard said. “The joints are what’s failing on M-6 because of the bad concrete mix.”

It’s not the first trouble MDOT has had with M-6. In 2009, the state spent nearly $2 million to fix the asphalt on the east end of the highway after it had crumbled. The warranty on that work also had run out.

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