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Senator blasts Mount Rose project contractor for ‘change-order scheming’

Tina Locurto
York Dispatch
Sen. Kristin Phillips-Hill discusses privacy concerns for voters as York County Commissioners meet with state lawmakers and poll workers to discuss last weeks election as well as  address necessary improvements needed for future elections, at the York County Administrative Center in York City, Thursday, Nov. 14, 2019. Dawn J. Sagert photo

A state senator criticized the parent company of the contractor responsible for the Mount Rose project on Interstate 83 and accused it of "change-order scheming."

The troubled project near Mount Rose Avenue is two years behind schedule.

State Sen. Kristin Phillips-Hill, R-York Township, pointed her finger Tuesday at Cherry Hill Construction and its parent company, Tutor Perini, during a Senate Appropriations Committee budget hearing.

“I’ve read countless articles and reports on the company where they (Tutor Perini) go in on the low bid and then submit additional cost overruns with lengthy project delays,” she said during a back-and-forth with Yassmin Gramian, PennDOT's acting secretary.

Tutor Perini has been involved in a slew of legal disputes with state and local governments, especially in California. For example, 11 projects throughout the San Francisco Bay area over a 12-year period cost governments $765 million more than officials expected, The San Diego Union-Tribune reported in 2013. 

Cherry Hill is a subsidiary of Tutor Perini, which is the second-largest transportation construction company in the United States. The parent company stepped in to manage the Mount Rose project in 2018.

Construction progress is crawling along on the Mount Rose Avenue, Interstate 83 junction, Wednesday, February 26, 2020. 
John A. Pavoncello photo

"This project keeps me up at night," Gramian said of the Mount Rose project.

Multiple calls Wednesday to Tutor Perini seeking comment were not returned. 

Cherry Hill Construction recently filed a claim against the state Department of Transportation with the state Board of Claims, alleging a breach of contract. PennDOT failed to "take seriously" problems at the work site, the claim alleged. 

In its response, PennDOT countered that Cherry Hill is at fault for the delays. 

Cherry Hill is seeking $24.2 million in damages and a 598-day extension for the project, which was supposed to be completed in June 2018. But the completion date has continued to backslide. 

Gramian said the delays were "embarrassing" and that, in March, the contractors are expected to present a new schedule for the project's completion. 

Nearby businesses and residents continue to show their frustration with PennDOT and the I-83 Mount Rose Avenue construction project. (Submitted)

"I’m hoping the project gets done by the end of this year or beginning of next year, the latest by spring 2021," Gramian said.

The company originally bid $58.3 million for the work. The cost has now passed $60 million, and Cherry Hill has been fined more than $7 million by the state.

Phillips-Hill said the issues at Mount Rose should inform how the state awards bids for major construction projects in the future. 

“Our statute states that our bids go to the lowest responsible bidder, and I have to say I’d hardly classify Tutor Perini as responsible,” Phillips-Hill said. “How can we safeguard against future PennDOT bids going to entities that specialize in change-order scheming?”

— Reach Tina Locurto at tlocurto@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @tina_locurto.