$2.9 million jury verdict will go toward upkeep of Windsor Road in Urbana

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URBANA — Mayor Diane Marlin tried to be restrained and professional after the city won a nearly $3 million judgment in a lawsuit over the shoddy construction of a section of Windsor Road.

But she couldn’t restrain her euphoria.

“Yes, we won,” she exulted.

It’s been a long road in the legal fight over a 1¼-mile section of Windsor between Race Street and Philo Road in Urbana. But roughly eight years after the newly rebuilt section of road opened and immediately started cracking, a Champaign County jury ordered Stark Excavating of Bloomington to pay the city $2.9 million.

Marlin emphasized that “this money will not rebuild” the road, but will be used to “keep it functional.”

An eight-woman, four-man jury heard more than a week of sometimes-complicated and technical testimony.

Lawyers delivered three hours of final arguments Thursday, and jurors deliberated for eight hours over two days before returning their verdict.

Arguing that Stark ignored contract requirements and, as a consequence, built a substandard road, Urbana asked for and received $2.9 million.

Stark counter-sued, asking that the city be ordered to pay $338,000 for work it did but for which it was never paid. The jury awarded Stark nothing.

Marlin was present in the courtroom for almost the whole trial. She described the trial as a “complex” but “fascinating” process.

“I’m just really, really grateful,” she said. “This was a hard one. It was full of technical information.”

The case, of course, is not over. Stark could appeal, a process that could take months, even years. In the meantime, post-judgment interest on the $2.9 million will accrue.

Two company officials — Dave Stark Sr. and Dave Stark Jr. — attended the trial. They were not present for the verdict and unavailable for comment.

The case involved an extremely complicated subject — road construction. But the issue for jurors to resolve was straightforward: Did Stark comply with the terms of its construction contract?

The jury in effect found that Stark did not comply with key specifications, including all-important “dowel” rings that allegedly were not properly secured, aligned and lubricated.

Those failures, the city’s lawyer argued, contributed to “mid-panel cracking” on road panels shortly after it was opened to traffic in 2015.

Dowel rings are part of the steel reinforcement built into the road panels that provides needed flexibility to accommodate traffic and changing weather.

As a result of the cracking, the city has been required to provide intermittent maintenance to keep that section of Windsor open.

Early in the process, before the city and Stark parted ways, Stark replaced several of the failing road panels.

Stark later charged that the widespread cracking was caused by design flaws over which it had no control. It further argued that a city inspector overseeing its work gave it high marks.

But jurors clearly found that Stark did not do what it was contractually obligated to do.

Lawyers presented expert witnesses to support their theories of the case. But one factor stood out.

Stark argued the project was doomed from the start because of design flaws and that any shortcomings in its work was unrelated to the cracking.

But the city’s lawyer emphasized testimony that Stark had built other roads with similar specifications that had no problems. In the case of Windsor, he argued the construction process somehow went “sideways” and never recovered.

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