Home | BaltimoreBrew.com
Transportationby Mark Reutter3:51 pmNov 5, 20150

A tale of two streets: Costs keep mounting at DOT-managed projects

How $18 million of street repaving in Baltimore has ballooned to $28 million – with little accountability at City Hall

Above: Looking north on Roland Avenue earlier this week, with curb and landscaping work still underway. (Mark Reutter)

In the beginning, it was described as a simple “shave and pave” – milling down the old asphalt surface of Roland Avenue in North Baltimore and replacing it with two inches of fresh pavement.

Meanwhile, across town, the resurfacing of Dundalk Avenue from Eastern Avenue to the city line was billed as a straightforward “streetscape” project.

Simple and straightforward projects managed by Baltimore’s Department of Transportation, however, have a way of getting enormously complex – and costly.

For these two streets, what was originally priced at $18 million has risen to $28 million, or 55% more, with additional overruns expected.

To pay for these ballooning costs, the city is using general funds (that’s money derived from your property taxes) and raiding federal highway aid (that’s money diverted from other badly-needed city road and bridge projects).

This week, for example, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and the Board of Estimates awarded a third “EWO” (extra work order) for the Roland Avenue repave.

The latest influx of $834,559 goes to M. Luis Construction, which corporately and through its CEO, Cidalia Luis-Akbar, has contributed generously to the campaign coffers of two Board of Estimates members, Mayor Rawlings-Blake and City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young.

Hardly Finished

At the same time, the board affirmed yesterday that the Dundalk Avenue project stands at $22 million (up from the original $14 million bid price) thanks to a gaggle of previously-approved EWOs (here and here).

Yesterday’s Board of Estimates agenda included this statement about the Dundalk project:

“This authorization is for a ninety (90) day time extension needed for administrative purposes only. The additional time will not be utilized by the contractor, but for the purpose of conducting the closeout process. The contract expires on October 13, 2015 with a new completion date of January 11, 2016.”

And yet earlier today, when we visited Dundalk Avenue, we found that construction work was clearly still underway. The road was barricaded at various intersections and traffic backed up.

The contractor, Civil Construction LLC, as well as a subcontractor and BGE were all busy working on parts of the unfinished northbound lanes.

At Dundalk Avenue at Holabird this morning, traffic is diverted as contractors continue to work on the roadway. (Photo by Fern Shen)

At Dundalk Avenue at Holabird this morning, traffic is diverted as contractors continue to work on the roadway.

Cars back up during road construction today at Dundalk and Holabird avenues. (Photo by Fern Shen)

Cars back up during road construction today at the intersection of Dundalk and Holabird avenues. (Mark Reutter)

In other words, contractors were fully utilizing today the new completion date that City Hall had awarded yesterday for “administrative purposes only.”

Complaining Residents

In regard to Roland Avenue, DOT project engineer Paul Goldbeck put forward a curious explanation for the cost overruns, when speaking last night at the monthly meeting of the Roland Park Civic League.

Parsing his words, he seemed to be saying residents were to blame for the repaving nightmare that has torn up the street for more than six months.

“After we put the pave in,” Goldbeck said, “people were complaining about water issues, drainage issues” caused by the new pavement that nearly reached – and sometimes exceeded – the height of the curbs.

Back in June, curbing along Roland Avenue is a fraction of an inch higher than the new asphalt repave by M. Luis. (Photo by Mark Reutter)

Back in June, the curbs along Roland Avenue were a fraction of an inch higher than the new asphalt installed by M. Luis. The curbs were recently replaced as part of M. Luis’ expensive do-over of the road. (Mark Reutter)

And, yes, there was widespread flooding caused by rainwater that flowed over the diminutive curbs (DOT construction rules call for six-to-eight-inch-high curbs) instead of being directed by the curbs into storm drains.

In Goldbeck’s retelling, it was citizen complaints – not inspections by DOT during the paving process – that triggered  what happened next.

“The city,” Goldbeck said, “went back to the drawing board.”

DOT’s solution to the botched repave was to keep the new layer of asphalt and pay Luis to install “six-inch-reveal” curbs and gutters across 22,000 linear feet of roadway between Cold Spring Lane and Deepdene Road.

Plus add some storm drains that somehow were forgotten during the original designwork by DOT.

No Answers

An agency spokeswoman told The Brew in September that the new curbing and related improvements would cost $900,000. As of yesterday, the Board of Estimates had approved $2,008,389 in new EWO overruns.

We asked DOT for details about these costs in a Maryland Public Information Act request made on September 15. Fifty-one days have passed and still no documentation has been forthcoming from the agency.

Last night, Goldbeck told the Civic League that “we are now in the new phase of curb and it is 85% done.” But judging from the appearance of Roland Avenue yesterday, M. Luis and the city have a way to go.

Surveying the street, we saw block after block of landscaping, ADA-accessible ramps, safety “bump-outs,”curbing and storm drain installations that were only partly completed.

Safety cones mark the uncompleted curbs and storm drains at Wyndhurst and Roland avenues yesterday. (Photo by Fern Shen)

Safety cones mark an unfinished ADA curb ramp at Wyndhurst and Roland avenues. (Fern Shen)

The unfinished median strip on Roland Avenue near Eddie's Supermarket. (Photo by Fern Shen)

The median strip near Eddie’s Supermarket on Roland Avenue. (Fern Shen)

Piles of soil and debris litter the sidewalk flanking the Women's Club of Roland Park along Roland Avenue. (Photo by Fern Shen)

Piles of soil are along the sidewalk outside of the Women’s Club of Roland Park yesterday. (Fern Shen)

Adding to the confusion, DOT is promising to install a “cycle track” along Roland Avenue in the near future.

This will require changes to roadside parking and re-complicate the process of finishing the paving job, especially around the congested retail district anchored by Eddie’s Supermarket.

From its original September deadline, the city has extended the project completion date to March 6, 2016.

That’s four months from now and leaves plenty of room for more EWOs to make their appearance before the spending board.

Fern Shen contributed to this story.

Most Popular