Cost to widen Maugans Avenue nearly doubles

March 07, 2007|by TARA REILLY

HAGERSTOWN - The Washington County Commissioners struggled on Tuesday with how to cover a $2.88 million shortfall for the Maugans Avenue widening project, before narrowly agreeing to approve a construction contract for the work.

The commissioners voted 3-2 to award a $7.4 million contract to C. William Hetzer Inc. of Hagerstown, the lower of two project bidders.

The project includes widening Maugans Avenue from two lanes to five lanes from U.S. 11 to the Interstate 81 interchange, adding turn lanes at the intersection of Maugans and Pennsylvania avenues and installing traffic signals at both of the I-81 ramps. The project is intended to improve safety on the busy road.

Work is scheduled to begin next week and be completed in June 2008.

Hetzer's bid was $2.88 million more than what county staff anticipated. County Chief Engineer Terry McGee told the commissioners the Engineering Department's cost estimate for the project was incorrect, contributing to the shortfall.


Commissioner William J. Wivell took issue with the cost hike, saying the project jumped by more than $3 million. He based that on the cost the commissioners approved in the current fiscal year's budget, which was $4.2 million, he said. Hetzer's contract is $7.4 million.

"That's almost double what the board was led to believe the project would cost," Wivell said.

"That is correct," McGee said. "We did not do a good job estimating the cost of the project."

Wivell said he wasn't comfortable with such a large increase.

"There's something going on here that just doesn't smell right," Wivell said.

McGee said the county has accrued expenses that were beyond its control, such as more costly requirements by the State Highway Administration, in addition to the flawed engineering estimate.

Commissioner James F. Kercheval said the county didn't have many alternatives and urged that the project move forward. Kercheval, Commissioners President John F. Barr and Commissioner Kristin B. Aleshire voted to cover the $2.88 million shortfall by borrowing $1.1 million, using about $1.1 million from the county's capital reserves and by cutting $658,602 in capital projects.

Wivell and Commissioners Vice President Terry Baker voted against the action. Wivell said he didn't agree with increasing borrowing, and Baker did not give a reason for his opposition.

Aleshire said it's possible the commissioners could adjust the amount they borrow if the county ends up with savings from school construction projects. Wivell said after the meeting that preliminary bids for the Westfields and Maugansville elementary schools are under budget, which could result in a savings to the county.

County staff has scheduled a public meeting at the Maugansville Ruritan Club today at 7 p.m. to update residents about the widening project, Director of Special Projects Gary Rohrer said.

Know more

The issue: Washington County plans to widen Maugans Avenue from two lanes to five lanes from U.S. 11 (Pennsylvania Avenue) to the Interstate 81 interchange. The county says the project is needed to improve safety and reduce congestion.

What's new: The County Commissioners on Tuesday awarded a $7.4 million construction contract to C. William Hetzer Inc. of Hagerstown for the work. The contract was $2.88 million more than what the county anticipated.

What's next: The county lists the project start date as March 12. County officials expect the work to be completed by June 2008.

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