Company says PennDOT is holding up Mount Rose Avenue interchange project

Logan Hullinger
York Dispatch
Mount Rose Avenue at the I-83 interchange in Springettsbury Township, Saturday, May 15, 2021. Dawn J. Sagert photo

The parent company of the contractor working on the Mount Rose interchange project is blaming the state Department of Transportation after once again missing a deadline.

Tutor Perini, the parent company of Maryland-based Cherry Hill Construction, alleged in an emailed statement that PennDOT's inaction is holding up the work on Interstate 83. It also denied the assertion that it owes $23.6 million in liquidated damages due to delays.

The most recent problem is that PennDOT has yet to approve its final pavement plans, which were submitted April 3, the company argued.

"This is one of many delays that cannot be charged to CHC. CHC is progressing this project as expeditiously as possible," according to the statement.

More:Mount Rose interchange deadline missed again; new completion date unclear

More:Ramps at I-83 and Mount Rose to move to final configuration Tuesday night

If PennDOT would act on the plans, the company could "deliver the project in 90 days," the statement continued.

Cherry Hill Construction was slated to finish the project on May 11 after years of delays and rising costs.

The company originally bid $58.3 million for the work, but the cost has now risen to $62.7 million. The project was scheduled to be completed in 2018 and has repeatedly been pushed back.

The contractor has also incurred $23.6 million in liquidated damages, which are late fees demanded by the state, PennDOT has said.

Gene Smith of contractor Tutor Perini directs traffic as signal lights were being calibrated on Mount Rose Avenue at the I-83 interchange Wednesday, May 12, 2021. Completed ramps at the exit are opening. Bill Kalina photo

In its statement, however, Tutor Perini dismissed claims that it owes any liquidated damages at all.

Cherry Hill still needs to complete surface paving over the entire project, finalize pavement marks, install signage and complete traffic signals, PennDOT spokesperson Dave Thompson said recently.

Thompson confirmed Thursday that is still the case, and the agency has yet to receive an updated completion date.

In the eyes of PennDOT and local lawmakers, the blame completely falls on the contractor. 

State Sen. Kristin Phillips-Hill, R-York Township, is currently circulating a legislative memo with plans to introduce a bill that would bulk up the state's vetting of contractors such as Cherry Hill.

Under the upcoming legislation, PennDOT would be required to take into account a bidder's history of what she calls “change order scheming."

Currently, PennDOT is required to award contracts to the lowest bidder.

Tutor Perini, on the other hand, argued that change orders on large projects are common. 

Most change orders occur because designs provided to the contractor must be corrected due to deficiencies, such as structures that need to be redesigned because of different site conditions, according to the statement.

"In addition, some projects are poorly managed by the owner due to less-competent supervisory staff assigned and a lack of adequate communication and/or decision-making by the owner’s staff in the field or home office," the statement continued.

Meanwhile, Cherry Hill and PennDOT remain in a legal battle, filed with the state Board of Claims, over who is to blame for the delays.

In December 2019, the contractor filed a claim with the state's quasi-judicial agency handling contract disputes, alleging the state owes it more than $24 million.

It also sought a 598-day extension of the contract's completion date. It was unclear whether the claim is referring to the initial June 2018 deadline.

The company alleged PennDOT consistently breached its contract with the company since the project began, ignoring issues that surfaced along the way.

PennDOT replied, arguing that it abided by the contract and that any delays were the fault of Cherry Hill.

A trial date had not yet been set, Thompson confirmed.

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