D.C. Not Paying Its Road Bills

Companies say D.C. owes millions for road projects

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    NEWSLETTERS

    The News4 I-Team went through pending transportation cases before the D.C. Contract Appeals Board, and found ten road project contractors with claims against DDOT. Companies claim they are owed more than $8.2 million for work they completed but were never paid for. Karen Salehi, of Rustler Construction,and Fariborz Navidi-Kasmai, of A&M Concrete, told the News4 I-Team their companies' stories. This story was published March 1, 2012 - 7:02 a.m.

    Digging.  Scraping.  Building.

    Construction seems to never end in the District.

    The News 4 I-Team is going to show you how you’re still paying for some road projects years after the concrete dries.

    Karen Salehi, of Rustler Construction, said they won their dream job back in 2002: A multi-million dollar project to renovate a stretch of Bladensburg Road in Northeast.

    "This particular project was our first in D.C.," she explained. 

    Sidewalks, roadways and lighting. It was all part of the plan.

    But Salehi said unexpected costs popped up when they realized the soil underneath was in bad shape, requiring what’s called “change orders” with the project.

    “These are the invoices,” Salehi said as she pointed to a filing cabinet as tall as she is. She said by the time the project wrapped in 2004, the money from D.C.’s Department of Transportation had run out.

    Seven years later, the company is still waiting to be paid for the change orders and other costs.

    “One-point-two million dollars is what is still outstanding,” Salehi said.

    Rustler sued and ended up at the D.C. Contract Appeals Board, a special group of judges who exclusively deal with all contract disputes brought against the city.

    The News4 I-Team went through other pending transportation cases and found there are at least nine other road projects with claims against DDOT, including renovations to F Street NW, LeDroit Park NW, the 35th Street SE Bridge and the New Hampshire Avenue NE bridge.

    Companies claim they’re owed more than $8.2 million for work they completed but were never paid for.

    “If you’re a bridge contractor, you don’t get to go on a job like this very often,” says Fariborz Navidi-Kasmai of A&M Concrete.

    Navidi-Kasmai said his excitement to work on a historic bridge project on the Klingle Bridge on Connecticut Avenue NW has turned into frustration.

    He said the project was delayed because DDOT made a mess of the traffic closures and didn't plan enough for an unexpected expense.

    "The skeleton was rusted more than what they showed on the plans,” he said.

    A&M Concrete is suing DDOT for $2.4 million. The company says it never received after it completed the bridge renovation. But the company waited more than five years just to get a trial date.

    "Maybe they have a point or we have a point,” Navidi-Kasmai said. “Maybe we're wrong, but we can't get our day in court. We can't get them to respond."

    DDOT is represented by the D.C. Attorney General's Office.

    Neither would comment on pending cases but a spokesman for the Attorney General’s Office admitted "there have been delays" and confirmed the attorney representing the city was replaced at least three times for the A&M case.

    The spokesman said the Attorney General’s Office is committed to dealing with the claims as quickly as possible because it might lead to "a net recovery for the District."

    The new head judge for the Contract Appeals Board also blames the backlog on staffing.

    Judge Marc Loud said he finally has a full panel of judges for the first time in seven years. 

    The board receives roughly 50 to 60 new cases a year.  Judge Loud said one of the first things he did when he took over was assign trial dates to every claim. As a result, he said the Board has already resolved about one-third of the 32 outstanding cases dating from 2007 or earlier.

    Salehi’s case is slated to come up this spring. All the while, she said they keep raking up the bills. 

    "On this job, we have spent a good $250,000 in attorney fees.”

    An added cost Salehi said is keeping companies from wanting to work here.

    She said when they bid for projects in Maryland and Virginia, there can be close to a dozen companies competing. In D.C., it’s half that number.

    And less competition could mean we're all paying more to get that new road.