PennDOT: Contractor could begin final paving on Mount Rose project as soon as next week
The state Department of Transportation expects paving for the Mount Rose interchange project to begin as early as next week, potentially breaking a stalemate to complete the three-year-late project.
Disagreements about final paving plans on Interstate 83 have been the most recent roadblock for the project. Previously, Maryland-based contractor Cherry Hill has said it could complete the project in 90 days once revised plans are approved, but PennDOT said those plans did not meet the project's specifications.
"Paving on Mount Rose Avenue may begin as early as next week. The contractor has not provided a revised project completion date," PennDOT spokesperson Mike Crochunis said Tuesday.
No additional details were available Tuesday.
Tutor Perini, the parent company of Cherry Hill, in a statement last month said it submitted revised pavement plans on April 3.
But PennDOT said the plans didn't meet the project's plans or specifications, and it asserted it had no intentions of approving them.
The standstill seemed to indicate there was no end in sight for the project.
The Mount Rose project began in 2015 and was initially slated to wrap up in 2018, but it has been repeatedly pushed back as costs continue to increase. The project was most recently supposed to be completed on May 11.
The company originally bid $58.3 million for the work, but the cost has now risen to $62.7 million.
The contractor has also incurred more than $23 million in liquidated damages, which are late fees demanded by the state, PennDOT has said.
Cherry Hill, though, claimed it does not owe any money in liquidated damages.
The company did not respond to requests for comment.
In addition to paving, the company still has to complete final pavement markings, install permanent signs and implement traffic signals, according to PennDOT.
State Rep. Stan Saylor, R- Windsor Township, has said he hopes to see federal legislation to make it easier to dump contractors such as Cherry Hill and find someone else to take over a job.
But he hasn't heard of solutions since talking to U.S. Reps. Scott Perry, R-Carroll Township, and Lloyd Smucker, R-Lancaster, last year, said spokesperson Neal Lesher.
Any updates would be included in negotiations in the ongoing infrastructure package presented by President Joe Biden, Lesher said.
Perry and Smucker did not respond to multiple inquiries for comment over a two-week period.
Saylor had said that canceling the contract with Cherry Hill would entail a lengthy court process.
In addition, he said, it would also take up to two years to go through the bidding process and find another contractor.
State Sen. Kristin-Phillips-Hill, R-York Township, said she has focused on state-level legislation to avoid similar issues in the future.
She has, however, spoken with Perry and Smucker in the past to bring attention to the issue, she said.
“My focus has been on what we can do here at the state level,” Phillips-Hill said. “I don’t like to rely on anyone else to fix our problems.”
The Republican is now finalizing legislation to introduce to the Senate 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.
PennDOT and Cherry Hill are already in the middle of a legal dispute in front of the state Board of Claims.
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 repeatedly 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.
PennDOT has said the parties don't need to wait for the case to be settled to continue work. In addition, the company could be paving right now if Cherry Hill had followed the initial project plans.
A trial date has not yet been set.
— Logan Hullinger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter at @LoganHullYD.