AUSTIN, Texas -- A five-year battle over the quality of workmanship in the Waller Creek Tunnel project reached a Travis County courtroom Monday, where S.J. Construction sought a temproary injunction against the City of Austin after the city terminated their contract and effectively banned the contractor from bidding on any city projects for three years.
In a letter sent to S.J. Louis Feb. 23, attorneys for the city demanded $22.3 million for the company's "failure to perform all covenants, conditions, and agreements agreed to be performed as part of the Project."
"The defects were obvious and significant," attorneys for the city said in court.
In a letter, the city stated:
"The tunnel as built has lost 67.3 percent of the tunnel's flood design factor for safety, measured by the loss of 'freeboard' at the primary intake in Waterloo Park."
Austin's Public Works Department said it has fixed the tunnel's defects "as much as they can be."
MORE | Waller Creek Tunnel Letter
"We did not actually receive the tunnel we contracted for and designed," Richard Mendoza said. "Namely a smooth finish, a tunnel without patchwork of repairs. Thusly, by contract, we feel we are due compensation."
The city argued the tunnel's poor workmanship caused it to lose $16 million in value. However, S.J. Louis' attorneys say their client is the one due compensation.
"We have that black mark wrongfully placed on us by the city, and this court has said we can't prove that anything the court would do would fix that damage that has already been done," attorney Tom Watkins said.
The city says problems began showing in 2013 with the first concrete pours. Mendoza said several initial samples found the mix failed to meet industry standards for concrete. The finished product left large voids and exposed rebar, court documents said.
Even after repairs, Richard Mendoza sa the tunnel will require significant maintenance.
"Given the way that it was given to us, there is a distinct possibility that those costs may increase over the life of the tunnel," Mendoza said.
Attorney Tom Watkins said his client's reputation is unfairly harmed since the city banned it from bidding on city projects for three years because of the Waller Creek Tunnel problems. Watkins explained why he believes a judge denied their case Monday.
"We cannot unring the bell, and that the damage that has been done on the basis of the wrongful conduct of the city cannot be undone," he said. "At the end of the day, they will owe us money and everybody will understand that result."
Mendoza said the tunnel, originally estimated to cost $25 million but expected to cost $163 million, will still function. However, it will do so in a diminsihed capacity.
"The tunnel is not going to fail," he said. "It's not going to collapse. It's working. It has been working, but you are absolutely right: it is not the tunnel we contracted for in the beginning."