Nearly $6K daily penalty levied for delays in Mount Rose I-83 project
A view of the Mount Rose Avenue, Interstate 83 construction project from a drone.
York County drivers aren't the only ones fed up with construction woes at Interstate 83's Mount Rose Avenue interchange — PennDOT also has run out of patience.
When the corporation hired to complete the construction failed to meet its already extended completion date in November, the state Department of Transportation began "fining" it $5,825 for each day it missed the Nov. 12 completion deadline, according to PennDOT spokesman Greg Penny.
The nearly $61 million project initially was scheduled to be finished in June 2018, but the contractor was granted a five-month extension for a variety of reasons. They include the fact that roadwork was delayed until utility work was completed; that there were permitting issues; and that a redesign of some bridgework was necessary, Penny said.
The daily amount being assessed against Cherry Hill Construction Inc. of Jessup, Maryland, isn't actually a fine, according to Penny. Rather, it's a civil penalty the transportation department calls "liquidated damages," he said.
At this point, the goal is for the project to be "substantially complete" by the end of this year, Penny said, with final paving expected to be done in the spring of 2020, once the weather is warm enough.
"We're trying to work with the contractor to get the job done," he said.
Ongoing back-and-forth: Even as the project slogs forward, contractor Cherry Hill Construction — owned by California-based Tutor Perini Corp., one of the largest general contractors in the United States — continues to negotiate with the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation for more time and money to complete the project, according to Penny.
PennDOT has refused to give the contractor more money and has indicated Cherry Hill Construction would have to justify the need for additional funding.
"We've essentially held them to the contract," he said. "Hopefully we can come to a common agreement. If not, the contractor may end up filing a claim (in court) in order to get more money."
Asked whether there are concerns within PennDOT that the quality of work could possibly suffer, considering that the contractor maintains it needs more money to finish, Penny said no.
He said PennDOT has built-in safeguards to prevent corner-cutting and that substandard work would be removed or replaced.
"We have inspectors on the job to make sure the job is being done correctly ... and meeting specifications," he said.
Waning patience: The public's waning patience with the ongoing construction and its effect on traffic — especially rush-hour traffic — long ago became apparent in social-media memes on sites including Facebook.
A recent "10 year" challenge, in which people post a decade-old photo of themselves next to a current one, spoofed the project by posting the exact same photo and claiming they'd been taken 10 years apart.
Another referenced the movie "Back to the Future." The spoof meme states: "Just got back from 2030 - Mt Rose over I83 is still under construction."
State Rep. Stan Saylor, R-Windsor Township, said he's happy about the financial penalty being assessed.
"It's almost two years behind schedule," he said of the project. "I'll be paying close attention. ... I drive through there a couple times a day."
Saylor said it's important for PennDOT to be able to assess such financial penalties, to help keep contractors on schedule.
The longtime lawmaker said he remains worried about the project's completion date.
Saylor also said he continues to meet with highway professionals and others to see if sensible legislation can be proposed to ensure companies that win PennDOT's bidding process for roadwork are able to handle the job.
Construction fatigue: State Sen. Kristin Phillips-Hill, R-York Township, said she appreciates the fact that PennDOT has held the line by refusing to give Cherry Hill Construction any more money, or any additional time beyond the initial five-month extension PennDOT gave the company until Nov. 12 to finish the job.
"I think PennDOT is doing everything it can to hold them accountable, under the circumstances," she said. "We have transportation-construction fatigue in this community."
The state senator said she drives through the construction every time she goes to Harrisburg, and she empathizes with commuters' frustration.
"We want the project done," Phillips-Hill said. "We want it done well. And we don't want to pay any more for it because the contractor didn't do what they're supposed to do."
Phillips-Hill met with state Transportation Secretary Leslie Richards last week in what the senator described as a productive discussion.
The senator said there are multiple construction projects planned for the York County stretch of I-83 over the next five or 10 years and that government must ensure contractors deliver what they've agreed to in their state contracts.
"We always have to be cognizant of being good stewards of taxpayer dollars," Phillips-Hill said. So while there's a good reason for state and federal governments to mandate that lowest bids be taken on work projects, there ought to be a provision that takes into account whether the lowest bidder has the ability to deliver what it promised.
Saylor has told The York Dispatch he is looking into whether legislation might help fix that issue.
— Reach Liz Evans Scolforo at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.