In the opinion of this writer, the article relating to the apparent failure of the 1997 Wessel Road project, "MDOT Wants Answers About Industrial Access" requires clarification.
The article reports upon an April 25 letter written by Greg Rosine, Director of the Michigan Department of Transportation to the Alpena County Road commission and Ken Cordes of Cordes Excavating demanding that corrective action be taken to improve the condition of the road. The implication of the letter and Mr. Rosine's reported comments was that Cordes Excavating was somehow responsible for the failure of Wessel Road and should be taking steps to repair it. The integrity of Mr. Cordes and his company has been called into question and, in the context of the Wessel Road project, it is important that the taxpayers be informed of the established relationship between roadway design and roadway construction so that they can reach a logical and accurate conclusion as to the reason for the failure.
The design of the roadway must consider and address many factors, including, but not limited to, accurately determining the volume and type of traffic that will use the road, providing adequate drainage of the roadbed, specifying adequate subbase and selecting the appropriate thickness of pavement materials. In the case of Wessel Road, all design criteria were specified by the County's independent consulting engineer and the County's staff engineer. As with most public roadway construction, neither Mr. Cordes nor any of his employees had any control over the design specified for Wessel Road.
Cordes Excavating was required to construct the roadway in accordance with the design specified by the County's staff engineer and professional consulting engineer. The construction materials and methods were monitored under the scrutiny and field inspection of the Alpena County Road Commissioner Engineer, the County's professional consultant, and, in some instances, representatives of MDOT, to verify that the road was being constructed in accordance with the specified design. The traditional separation of powers between design and construction is the norm, but still begs the question of what went wrong. At least two reports have been prepared by independent engineers familiar with roadway design and construction. Both reports presented similar findings. Wessel Road was so grossly under-designed for the traffic actually using the road that it was destined to fail.
For anyone to call into question the integrity of Cordes Excavating was premature, unfair, and, given the results of two independent reports, simply unwarranted. Mr. Cordes is a quality contractor who has constructed hundreds of miles of roads in Northern Michigan and his reputation is beyond reproach.
He, as I, believe that what the taxpayers deserve is a quality product at a fair price. In roadway construction that product consists of two components - design and construction. The highest quality of materials and skills employed in construction of a roadway cannot overcome the ultimate results of a deficient design. We believe that the taxpayers deserve the whole truth and should realize that the contractors cannot guarantee the performance of a design over which they have no control.
As Michigan's Heavy Construction Association, it is not our goal to point fingers over the failure of Wessel Road. Rather, it is our goal to educate the public about the process involved in the construction of roadways in Michigan, and particularly, about the process involved in the Wessel Road project.
Bob Patzer Executive Director AUC - Michigan's Heavy Construction Association