EDITORIAL: Avoid repeats of Mount Rose mess

York Dispatch Editorial Board

A massive project to resurface and widen a 1.3-mile section of Interstate 83 in the heart of York while reconfiguring the Exit 18 interchange ramps for Mount Rose Avenue was supposed to make life easier for local drivers.

After all, the greater York area was already a challenging environment for motorists. Bumper-to-bumper crawl-a-thons along Route 30, the tractor-trailer Autobahn that is I-83, the seemingly every-other-day accidents that close major thoroughfares and detour traffic, and the state’s numerous, ongoing construction projects to repair and improve roadways are just a few of the daily obstacles that commuters face when they crawl behind the wheel.

It’s no wonder the local joke is “it takes 30 minutes to get anywhere in York.” And it’s no wonder nobody’s laughing.

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

More:When will Mount Rose interchange project be finished? Not soon

More:'What a freakin' mess': Mount Rose/I-83 work frustrating motorists

Be aware of changes in the traffic flow in the construction area of Interstate 83 and Mount Rose Avenue. Crews are moving north bound lanes, Sunday, January 27, 2019.
John A. Pavoncello photo

The $60 million-and-counting Mount Rose project was intended to reduce congestion and improve safety at one of the area’s most notorious interchanges. And maybe it will. If it’s ever completed.

But that day remains a long way off. And there’s little evidence that the contractor, Maryland-based Cherry Hill Construction, and the powers that be at PennDOT are working together to move things along.

In fact, the latest chapter in this sad saga saw Cherry Hill file a claim arguing that the state owes it an additional $24 million. Oh, and they’d like a 600-day extension on the project, which was initially scheduled to be completed in June 2018.

The company claims PennDOT has repeatedly breached its contract through actions like ignoring unforeseen environmental complications at the site.

State officials, understandably impatient, have been levying fines on the company for the ongoing missed deadlines.

Clearly, this was not how things were supposed to go. Nor can it be how they continue.

Amid the finger pointing, missed deadlines and cost overruns, there seems to be little in the way of accountability from either PennDOT or the contractor.

At best, completion is still perhaps a year away and, between the fines and counter claims, who knows how much a project originally bid out at $58.3 million will end up costing?

Add to those costs the patience of some 60,000 commuters a day who have been forced to navigate the construction site since the project began back in the spring of 2015.

These commuters deserve some answers. So do area business owners.

State transportation officials should have been firmer with Cherry Hill when it first became apparent the project was headed into overtime. Instead, they made excuses.

“Not everybody’s perfect,” Pennsylvania Department of Transportation spokesman Greg Penny told the Dispatch in August 2018. “You don’t always get it right the first time.”

Motorists weren’t — and still aren’t — demanding perfection; just competence.

Excusing away missed deadlines isn’t the answer and neither, frankly, is incessantly fining them. PennDOT and Cherry Hill must hit the reset button: Define a mutually agreeable — and realistically attainable — plan to complete this nightmare of a project. Then hold a public forum to explain to the driving and taxpaying public exactly what to expect.

PennDOT oversees hundreds of projects — more than five dozen are planned or underway in York County right now — and most of them are completed without issue. But for a project on the scale and scope of Mount Rose to go so inexplicably off the rails raises real questions about the agency’s planning, contractor selection, oversight and communication.

When work is completed and the dust finally settles, PennDOT leaders must conduct a thorough post mortem to review what went wrong, why it wasn’t corrected sooner, and what lessons have been learned.

The Mount Rose project has been a prolonged, expensive, unwieldy and inconvenient exercise in poor planning, insufficient execution and sub-par communication. Its mistakes must not be repeated.