EDITORIAL: Learning from the Mount Rose debacle
More than three years and $58.3 million.
That's what the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation gave Cherry Hill Construction of Jessup, Maryland, to remake the Interstate 83 interchange at Mount Rose Avenue.
The interchange, designed when the highway was opened in the 1960s, wasn't made for the amount of traffic that goes through the area now. According to a study from the York County Planning Commission, around 7,000 vehicles pass by the exit in each direction between 3 and 6 p.m. each weekday. More than 20 percent of them either exit or enter the highway at Mount Rose (Exit 18).
Traffic has been a nightmare there for decades, between the amount of traffic and the fact that half of the entrances onto and exits from I-83 required drivers to turn left.
Once it's completed, the new interchange will be much more efficient, eliminating left turns, widening the bridge over I-83, extending the ramps so drivers have space to speed up or slow down as necessary.
And PennDOT says the work will be finished. Sometime. Eventually. Really.
Cherry Hill is now three months past its original deadline to complete the project.
As anyone who drives at all in York County can tell you, the work is nowhere close to being finished.
Residents and businesses in the area have put up with a lot since ground was broken in April 2015.
Wetlands and forest were taken out, leaving houses exposed to the noise of the highway. Some businesses were bought and buildings knocked down. Other businesses have dealt with less traffic, and some have closed.
And drivers have tried to get through the construction as best they can, with lanes that are changed and ramps that are closed and signs, so many signs.
PennDOT has worked with Cherry Hill and, now, its parent company, California-based Tutor Perini, one of the largest contractors in the country.
The new completion date for the project is late 2019, or maybe early 2020. The price tag has gone up to $59.7 million. Work on Haines Road had to be redone after a state inspector found that it was not up to PennDOT specifications.
Cherry Hill at one point told PennDOT that the work would go more quickly if they could close Mount Rose Avenue completely.
Clearly, these are not people who try to get from one side of I-83 to the other, ever.
PennDOT rightly told the contractor that that idea wasn't feasible for many reasons, from emergency services to school bus routes.
The big question is, could all of this have been foreseen? Could another contractor, one with local ties and relationships with suppliers, have finished the job on time and on budget?
We'll never know, but there is one thing to consider: While Cherry Hill won the contract with the lowest price, the next-lowest bidder was York County-based G.A. & F.C. Wagman Inc. at $59.46 million, which is less what's now estimated to be the final cost.
State Rep. Stan Saylor, R-Windsor Township, says he will introduce a bill in the next legislative session that would allow entities to look slightly beyond the lowest bidder on any project.
If the second-lowest bid is within 1 percent of the lowest bid, Saylor's legislation would let entities such as PennDOT consider whether the lowest bid came from a company that has had projects that were completed late or over budget and move along to a slightly higher bid from a company with a better reputation.
That seems like a sound strategy.
While the price of any project is always an important consideration, other factors, including a history of finishing projects on time and doing things to standard to begin with should be part of any final decision.
Just ask anyone from York County who will still be navigating the traffic cones and strange signs on Mount Rose Avenue four and a half years after the work was started.