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Urbana wins $2.9 million award against Stark Excavating of Bloomington over roadwork issues

A crack in the eastbound lanes of Windsor Road in Urbana. At the time of the photo in 2016, the road had not been driven on.
Jim Meadows
Illinois Public Media
A crack in the eastbound lanes of Windsor Road in Urbana. At the time of the photo in 2016, the road had not been driven on.
Updated: October 31, 2023 at 11:27 AM CDT
The original story referred to Urbana as a village. It is incorporated as a city.

The story was also changed several days after publication to add comments from Stark.

A Champaign County jury has ruled in favor of the City of Urbana and against the Bloomington-based firm of Stark Excavating over faulty road construction.

The award of nearly $2.9 million is a rarity. Stark is widely used in central Illinois for many municipal construction projects, including, for many years, by Urbana.

Urbana Mayor Diane Wolfe Marlin said the premise of the case is the city believed it didn't get the road it contracted for. In 2014-15, Stark was hired to reconstruct about 1.4 miles of Windsor Road, a major four-lane, east-west thoroughfare on the south side of Urbana.

“What we were seeing were what are called mid-panel transverse cracks. Panels were 15 feet in length. And very soon after the road was built, within weeks in some cases, we were seeing panels beginning to crack and they were developing cracks across the middle of the panel,” said Marlin. “And it's just gotten worse over time. What we have now is a road that we're going to have to live with for decades, but it's not what we paid to build.”

Experts for Urbana testified forensic analysis of the pavement showed the joints were locking up and the panels were not moving. Stark had contended the problem was a design flaw, not faulty construction.

"IDOT would not allow a pavement to be built under the same specification. It was wrong, an extreme amount of steel that didn't allow the pavement to work," said Stark owner Dave Stark.

Urbana noted it had required Illinois Department of Transportation specs be used in the project which are widely applied to projects across the state. Stark said the situation is more nuanced than that.
"An IDOT specification takes 2-3 years to get it published. We went to them (Urbana) before the job even started and said, hey, there's a huge change coming here, and can we go to this new spec? And they just said no," said Stark.

Marlin said the $2.9 million jury award would not make the municipality whole, it would simply help offset anticipated increased maintenance costs over several decades. She noted the original project price of about $4.5 million would be significantly higher today.

“You know, you build a concrete road, you expect it to last 40-50 years with not a whole lot of maintenance required. This is going to require a lot more,” said the mayor.

She said she was unable to estimate how much shorter the lifespan of the road would be because of the flaws. That will depend on how good a job Urbana can do in patching, sealing the road from moisture intrusion, and other conservation measures.

Marlin said the situation is unusual in Urbana’s experience.

“I appreciate the members of the jury. They sat through two weeks of very technical testimony and, you know, it's a real testament to their commitment to service,” said Marlin.

She said the village has a responsibility to taxpayers to spend their money and resources wisely. And in this case, the product desired was not delivered.

Dave Stark acknowledged the long-running case and the verdict is a hit to the company.

"And my guys got their dobbers down because they felt like they didn't do a good job. Not the case," said Stark.

He said Stark Excavating has been in business 52 years. It will go on. And such things do not change the way the company works.

“I have the absolute best employees that know how to follow the specifications of every job there is. They know what to do. But when they are given an inferior specification, what do they do?" said Stark.

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WGLT Senior Reporter Charlie Schlenker has spent more than three award-winning decades in radio. He lives in Normal with his family.
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