PennDOT: Don't blame us for Mount Rose Avenue project mess

Logan Hullinger
York Dispatch

Cherry Hill Construction is solely responsible for delays at the Mount Rose interchange project on Interstate 83, according to PennDOT's Jan. 2 response to allegations that it had breached the $58.3 million contract.

The agency's 65-page response came after the Maryland-based firm accused the state Department of Transportation of violating the contract by failing to "take seriously" problems at the work site. Those allegations were made in a filing last month to the state Board of Claims.

Cherry Hill is seeking $24.2 million in damages and a 598-day extension for the project, which was supposed to be complete in June 2018. The work is now expected to wrap up this summer. 

In PennDOT's response, the department alleged the problems encountered were "solely and exclusively due to the acts, omissions, events, matters, causes or things for which, as between CHS and PennDOT, CHS is solely and exclusively legally responsible."

Cherry Hill did not immediately respond Wednesday to inquiries for comment.

More:Mount Rose project contractor demands more money, more time from PennDOT

In the company's Dec. 2 complaint, it argued that PennDOT had repeatedly breached its contract in failing to address and resolve issues that came up after work began in 2015.

PennDOT countered that the damages sought by Cherry Hill should be reduced or dismissed, citing the company's own alleged breaches of contract.

Those breaches include a failure to give PennDOT notice of its claim and failing to supply reports to the department detailing delays or damages.

Cherry Hill contends the conditions at the project site could not have been anticipated in advance and that PennDOT did not work with it to address issues such as an unknown water source that flowed into the site during excavation.

PennDOT argues that Cherry Hill took five months to come up with a plan to drain the water — which, it adds, was an amount "not inconsistent" with information in the contract.

The department also argued that Cherry Hill, not the agency, was responsible for delays stemming from the demolition of a beam. 

After Maryland-based contractor Cherry Hill Construction alleged PennDOT consistently breached its contract, the department is now fighting back.

Cherry Hill delayed action for 68 days and then deviated from its own plan. The move "created a safety condition," which requiring the department to intervene, PennDOT's response stated.

Additionally, the department claimed that Cherry Hill complicated what should have been routine tasks. For example, it cited the company's handling of debris that the contract anticipated at an excavation site.

Although PennDOT argued the debris could have easily been transported to a waste site accepting the material, the company instead took the waste to a site that didn't accept the material. It was then required  to further break down the material.

While the move did not delay the project, the company did so without any instruction from the department, according to its response.

After Maryland-based contractor Cherry Hill Construction alleged PennDOT consistently breached its contract, the department is now fighting back.

There is no set date for the Board of Claims to rule on the matter. Parties could request a hearing or opt to settle, according to officials. 

Meanwhile, the company that has drawn the ire of local officials and politicians continues to rack up fines, which now total about $7 million.

In November 2018, the state began penalizing Cherry Hill Construction for each day the project was overdue. 

PennDOT first charged Cherry Hill with a $5,825 penalty for each day the project remained overdue. Then, in February 2019, when Cherry Hill missed the deadline for completing a detour for the I-83 southbound on-ramp, PennDOT added another daily penalty of $4,885, Crochunis said.

It most recently levied an additional $14,000 daily penalty in July for missing the deadline to remove the reduced speed zone.

The company in its December claim argued those penalties should be reversed.

Amid waning patience from the public, state lawmakers have said Cherry Hill Construction should no longer be considered a qualified bidder in the state of Pennsylvania.

Cherry Hill still has a long list of tasks to complete the project. Those include construction on the middle section of I-83 and reconstruction of the Mount Rose Avenue eastbound exit and ramp.

Those tasks come on top of the necessary installation of new traffic signals, structure work, highway lighting and pavement markings.

— Logan Hullinger can be reached at lhullinger@yorkdispatch.com or via Twitter at @LoganHullYD.