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Fixing JFX sinkhole to cost $2 million, double the original estimate

Only one contractor bids on the JFX repair project that will last until mid-June.

Above: Northbound JFX traffic backed up today near the 28th Street Exit, due to a bottleneck created by the sinkhole repair project.

((UPDATED: The sinkhole contract was unanimously approved by the Board of Estimates today, while further details of the award were provided to The Brew.))

The city is set to pay $2 million to thwart a sinkhole from developing on an elevated portion of the Jones Falls Expressway.

Twelve days ago, the city shut down two lanes of the JFX (each abutting the median strip) at 29th Street after inspectors determined that a sinkhole was developing as a result of damage from collapsed drainage pipes beneath the roadway.

The Board of Estimates is set to approve tomorrow an emergency appropriation of $1,997,975 to John Brawner Contracting Co. to remove the median strip and dig down to the two collapsed pipes, one 6 feet below the surface and the other 21 feet under.

The city decided to undertake a permanent solution and, in addition to installing new pipes, clean undamaged pipes in the area and install liners to shore up pipes misaligned from water damage and age.

Price has Increased

When the city announced the emergency repairs earlier this month, the price tag was estimated at “up to $1 million” by Frank Murphy, deputy director of the city transportation department.

That figure increased after the city sought bids from four pre-qualified contractors, which included such construction stalwarts as Potts & Callahan and Cianbro.

“We held a pre-bid meeting and gave the invited bidders up to a week to ask questions, then submit bids by last week’s Board deadline,” Jamie Kendrick, another top DOT official, told The Brew.

((In an interview at the BOE meeting, Kendrick explained more about the bidding process. Of the four firms deemed pre-qualified, one – Howard T. Baker – was found to have an expired “prequal,” disqualifying it from bidding. Another firm told DOT officials it was too busy to bid on the contract, while a third shied away because it considered the project too risky.

((This left Brawner, of Hunt Valley, as the only bidder. The city has no reason to think “that that bidder knew the others were not bidding,” Kendrick said.))

Because of the many unknowns, “the budget may rise or fall depending on precise conditions found once the road is opened up,” Kendrick said. “We have conducted ground-penetrating radar, but this only gets us so much information.”

The collapsed pipes, which caused a small dip in the highway to form a year ago, were part of the inaugural section of the JFX, which opened in December 1961 from Charles Street north to Falls Road.

About 100,000 vehicles use the highway daily. Expect rush-hour traffic delays to continue as the two lanes (out of six) are scheduled to be closed for eight weeks, or until mid-June.

The emergency appropriation comes from federal highway dollars allocated to the city.

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