East Texas legislators hopeful construction company's insurance will cover claims

LUFKIN, TX (KTRE) - An East Texas state representative and a senator say they are hopeful that a construction company's insurance will cover all claims filed by drivers who suffered vehicle damage on Aug. 31 while driving on the Lufkin loop.

TxDOT was forced to close the east side of Loop 287 on Aug. 31 after melted tar began sticking to drivers' tires. According to TxDOT spokeswoman Rhonda Oaks, rain from Tropical Storm Harvey kept the sealing of the road from drying properly. On that Thursday, the seal melted when the sun came up and began sticking to the tires.

TxDOT shut down the road, but not before hundreds of drivers had found their vehicles nearly undriveable. About 600 people have filed damage claims with TxDOT.

"It's a very unfortunate situation, "State Rep. Trent Ashby said. "Just awful. Like everybody else, it's just unfortunate. The way it happened and unfolded, it's just a mess."

Ashby said he is hopeful the insurance agency of the contracting company, Clark Construction, will cover any damages.

"To be clear, there is a process here that has to be followed," Ashby said. "First thing I tell people, I'm very sympathetic and agree that something needs to be done for people to be reimbursed for their damages. I know that process is still being played out."

State Sen. Robert Nichols said he has spoken to the head of Clark Construction.

"The contractor has to validate which claims are real and which ones are false," State Sen. Robert Nichols said. "Because there are other people who said, 'I have damage, give me money,' who didn't have damage. But the majority of them are legitimate claims. And I was assured they were going to process them and they were going to pay for the damage."

In a TxDOT email, an official speculated that the insurance company would deny all claims, blaming the incident on an Act of God.

KTRE has obtained hundreds of pages of correspondence regarding the incident through the Public Information Act. TxDOT complied with the request without appeal.

Ashby said he has had multiple conversations with members of the TxDOT commission, the group which governs TxDOT.

"I've asked for any assistance that can be provided and so I know that as far as I know as the representative for Lufkin I have certainly taken it to the highest level that I can within TxDOT," Ashby said in a phone interview Friday. "Just today, I saw the chairman of the House Transportation Committee and briefed her on the situation dealing with the Lufkin loop and asked her if she knew of anything at the legislative level that we might need to be looking at and of course she said there would be hearings over the next several months to investigate issues dealing with transportation as a result of Hurricane Harvey and that this was something that probably need to be highlighted."

Rep. Geanie Morrison is the chair of the house committee. Nichols is the chair of the senate committee.

Ashby said Morrison told him federal funding may be available for loop victims.

"There may be an opportunity for TxDOT to visit with FEMA about the people that were affected by the Lufkin loop," Ashby said.

FEMA funding would mean the government agrees the incident was the result of Tropical Storm Harvey. Ashby said he would not speculate on whether the incident was the result of Harvey or human error.

"I'm not qualified to answer that question," he said.

"You had a contractor who did nothing wrong," Nichols said. "He laid a fresh layer of asphalt and immediately the storm and hurricane came out before it could even set. The got 24 inches of rain. And you cannot plan for that. Once they knew it was coming they stopped laying. But they had 24 inches of rain on top of soft asphalt that had not set. And when cars got on it, it just stuck to cars."

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