A North Salt Lake contractor faces federal charges for allegedly installing substandard sound walls along I-215.

An indictment handed down Thursday alleges that Joseph McNeil, through his company J.D. McNeil Construction Inc., knowingly installed 15 faulty panels along the freeway between Red- wood Road and 4700 South in June 2004.

McNeil reportedly said the 17-foot-tall walls met installation requirements for the project, which was approved by the U.S. Department of Transportation, when they had not been certified because of "production and design defects," the indictment states.

To meet certification requirements, the panels cannot be cracked and must have at least one inch of concrete covering the reinforcing steel and rebar to protect against degradation, said Melodie Rydalch, spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office for Utah.

McNeil actually installed 34 of the defective panels, she said, but did so in a random pattern so as to avoid detection while the on-site inspector was on vacation. Inspectors must now continue to look at the remaining walls for defects, which could cost between $150,000 and $300,000 and require lane closures along the affected route, according to Rydalch.

Brent Wilhite, with the Utah Department of Transportation, said the faulty sound walls were discovered during a routine inspection of the project.

"The good thing about this is, it is not a safety issue. (The walls are) not just going to crumble and fall," he said. "It's a life-span issue."

Sound walls are expected to last approximately 40 years, Wilhite said.

McNeil, who has replaced the compromised panels, continues to do work for UDOT, although under stricter standards. On each project he has completed since this incident, UDOT has required McNeil to hire a third-party inspector to report directly to the agency, Wilhite said.

Attempts to reach McNeil were unsuccessful Thursday.


E-mail: awelling@desnews.com