Project adding turn lanes to busy intersection is delayed

December 07, 2008|By HEATHER KEELS


A project that would add more turn lanes to the busy U.S. 40-Edgewood Drive intersection has been delayed almost a year by a bidding dispute, pushing it precariously closer to the projected opening date of the new regional medical at Robinwood, county officials said.

The bidding dispute was resolved late last month, when State Highway Administration officials announced they would reject all bids and readvertise the project, SHA spokesman Charlie Gischlar said.

SHA is managing the project, but it is also receiving funding from Washington County and the City of Hagerstown.

Officials hoped to begin the 15-month project in May of this year, but now it will have to wait until the spring of 2009, said Gary W. Rohrer, the county's director of special projects. That leaves enough time to finish it before the hospital's projected opening in December 2010, but only if nothing else goes wrong, Rohrer said.


"My concern is if it were to get pushed back or delayed again," Rohrer said. "I still think we have plenty of time, but we just need to get on with it."

The improvements are necessary because the intersection is already failing to accommodate heavy traffic caused by increased development, particularly during peak travel times in the morning and evening, officials have said. The number of vehicles traveling through the intersection on weekdays increased almost 50 percent from 1996 to 2006, according to the SHA.

Fortunately, hospital shifts are different than those at most other businesses, so the traffic created by the new hospital's work force will not fall during the current peak times, Rohrer said.

However, the current congestion problems could make it harder for emergency vehicles to reach the hospital at peak hours, he said.

The situation will be even worse if construction is going on when the hospital opens, Washington County Commissioners President John F. Barr said.

"Personally, my concern is in two and a half years, the hospital's going to open, and if we're still fooling around with several means of ingress to the new hospital tore up in construction, it just seems senseless," Barr said.

The city and county agreed last winter to cooperate with the state on the approximately $12.3 million project, with the city paying about $2.4 million and the county paying about $3.6 million, according to published reports at the time. The state is paying about $6 million.

Planning and engineering for the intersection project were complete by mid-January and the original bids were opened in April, Rohrer said. Since then, the project has been stalled because of a dispute over the low bidder's application, officials said.

County Commissioner James F. Kercheval said he heard the problem was with the low bidder's minority-owned subcontractor waivers. The low bidder argued the problem stemmed from a paperwork issue and sought legal action, Kercheval said.

In a letter to bidders dated Nov. 25, SHA's Office of Construction wrote that it decided it was in the state's best interest to reject all bids, especially considering the time that had elapsed and the fact that the bid forms the low bidder claimed were ambiguous had since been changed. The letter said the project would be readvertised but did not specify when.

"Quite frankly, based on the feedback I was getting on the possibility of a court challenge, I think getting it rebid was the best answer we could look for at this point in time," Kercheval said.

The decision to rebid could be advantageous because asphalt prices have come down dramatically since the original bids were submitted, Kercheval said. This is the best time of year to advertise projects, while contractors are scheduling their work for warmer weather, and the economy also could have a positive impact, he said.

I'm optimistic we're going to get a lot of contractors sharpening their pencils, bidding on this project, because they need the work," Kercheval said.

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