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Homeowners say historic houses damaged by UDOT construction

Posted at 7:36 PM, Nov 08, 2021

SALT LAKE CITY — After nearly four decades of living in a home, you come to know it inside and out.

Lee Velasquez knows his home of 38 years has some wear and tear.

It is, after all, more than a century old.

But some of the wear and tear he can see today, he noticed showed up very recently.

"All of a sudden, I looked up and there's cracks," Velasquez said, recounting what he found in his living room less than a month ago.

Cracks formed on the ceiling and wall. Velasquez guesses that one is eight inches long, and the other at least 15.

Outside, Velasquez pointed out some issues with his porch. If facing his house, it's apparent that the entire left side slopes down to the left, Velasquez estimates, by about three to four inches.

He has a hunch how this happened.

"I thought it was an earthquake at first, and then you hear the tractors," Velasquez recounted.

About a month or so ago, Velasquez and other neighbors said UDOT kicked off construction on the I-15 northbound 600 North offramp.

"It was pretty powerful," said Aaron Johnson, who lives across the street from Velasquez. "It would shake the entire house."

Johnson and Velasquez's properties border the offramp. Massive concrete walls and sound barriers serve as a fence along their yards.

Johnson described how cracks mysteriously appeared on his inside and outside walls around the time UDOT ramped up construction. He said he noticed that his dining room floor began to droop to one side.

Some days, he explained, the shaking was so intense that his entire desk would vibrate as he tried to work-from-home. He said his two dogs were so freaked out, he had to take them somewhere else to stay.

"I had pieces of cabinet that I had been working on that fell off," Johnson explained, showing a piece of cabinet in his kitchen that is no longer attached to the cupboard and instead just sitting on the counter.

His home was built in the 1880s. Worried about the impact of the shaking, and new formation of cracks, Johnson described how he called UDOT for answers.

"I said, ‘Hey, what can you do to stop this, to mitigate this? What's going on? You’re shaking my house apart,'" Johnson recounted. He said UDOT told him that he could file a claim, but that the contractor working on the project would be the one to investigate.

Velasquez also filed a claim, and so did the third neighbor who lives next door to Velasquez.

An investigator came out to inspect Johnson's home, and Johnson became weary of the outcome based on his interaction.

"One of the things they said immediately was, ‘Well how can you prove this is us?’" Johnson remembered.

He said he was told that in order for the contractor to accept the claim, he would need to submit 'before' and 'after' pictures to prove that the damage was recent.

The problem is, Johnson does not have 'before' pictures of his walls.

"How would we know to prepare for a seismic event? A continued seismic event, that lasts for a month?" He questioned.

"This is something that we take very seriously," said John Gleason, public information officer for UDOT. "We want to get to bottom of it."

Gleason explained that UDOT follows a process when it comes to handling claims. He said they received a few complaints from homeowners living near this project, and that the contractor is still investigating those claims.

"If it's determined that any damage was caused by construction activities, that's absolutely something that we'll step up and take care of," Gleason said.

As Johnson, Velasquez, and the third neighbor wait on the results of that investigation, they say the cracks are spreading.

"Yeah, I'm watching them get worse," Johnson said. He put up blue tape around the house to mark the cracks and said they're getting longer and wider.

They're hoping for a resolution soon, so they can work toward getting the problem fixed.