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Accountabilityby Mark Reutter8:49 amOct 12, 20230

A year after opening, Baltimore’s ballooning Harford Road Bridge project racks up more EWOs

The contractor with the lowest bid winds up with over $6 million in Extra Work Orders paying for everything from additional rock excavation to “loss of productivity” by a carpenter.

Above: The Harford Road Bridge was opened last October after four years of costly construction. (Mark Reutter)

Blame high water, old trolley tracks and a rarely used claim of “loss of  productivity” as the price tag of the Harford Road Bridge continues to climb a year after it was opened to traffic.

The latest batch of EWOs (Extra Work Orders) will boost the construction cost of the triple-arch bridge over Herring Run in northeast Baltimore to 33% above its original sealed bid.

On the horizon: more costs.

The Brew has learned that the company has filed additional claims against the city under threat of legal action.

Back in 2018, Technopref, a subsidiary of the French engineering giant Demathieu Bard, submitted a bid that city transportation officials hailed as remarkably below their engineer’s estimate what is would cost to replace the original 1911 bridge.

But bids can deceive.

The $18.9 million bargain-basement offer – which enabled Technopref to beat out five competitors – has since morphed into $25.2 million, not counting the roughly $2 million the city has spent for bridge inspectors and consultants.

In documents submitted to the Board of Estimates, DOT Director Corren Johnson asked for $600,000 to be transferred from a reserve fund to the bridge project.

Out of that money, the latest and other recent EWOs would be paid.

Johnson was not asked to appear before the Board of Estimates to explain the fund transfer, which Mayor Brandon Scott and the rest of the board unanimously approved last week without discussion or comment.

Curious as to the breakdown of costs, The Brew secured the latest Expenditure Authorization Request Form compiled internally by DOT.

Blaming Herring Run

In the past, Technopref has blamed heavy rains and flooding for the cost overruns and, specifically, a faulty stream diversion plan by bridge engineers Whitman Requardt.

The city eventually handed out more than $1.5 million to shore up a sharp bend of Herring Run and to repair a popular hiking trail that runs under the bridge.

Then there was the issue of “excessive rock excavation.”

Because 125% more rock was found at the site than estimated by Whitman Requardt, Technopref was able to invoke a provision in the contract that forced renegotiation of the price for rock excavation.

That resulted in the cost of rock removal jumping from $65 per cubic yard to $188 per cubic yard, which added $1.6 million to the bridge’s cost in a single swoop.

A dozen more EWOs ensued. Last year, for example, the city paid more than $500,000 to Technopref to repair more storm damage caused by “stream diversion.”

Many of the cost overruns have involved efforts to protect the new bridge from flooding by Herring Run, at right. (Mark Reutter)

Many of the cost overruns involved efforts to protect the new bridge from periodic flooding by Herring Run at right. (Mark Reutter)

In the latest EWO, the city agreed to pay another $18,357 for unanticipated rock excavation, $7,222 to run a new conduit line for Baltimore Gas & Electric, and $141,000 to remove old trolley tracks and repave roadway approaches to the bridge.

DOT pays $41,000 for “loss of productivity” by a carpenter whose formwork was thwarted by flooding.

And once again, Herring Run was faulted for its rampaging ways.

DOT, for example, agreed to pay $41,080 to compensate Technopref for “loss of productivity” by a single carpenter whose work was damaged by stream surges back in 2018.

Queried about the payment, DOT spokesperson Marly Cardona-Moz provided the following explanation:

The contractor’s carpenter, who was responsible for setting the formwork for the concrete piers, had to reset the forms several times due to the flooding events. In their bid, the contractor only planned on setting the forms one time.

However, due to the flooding events, the formwork was damaged, and the contractor had to perform the work several times. Having to repeat the same work several times due to the flooding caused the “loss of productivity.”

Because the Federal Highway Administration does not recognize “loss of productivity” as a reimbursable category for federal aid, that cost will be borne by city taxpayers.

Shades of Chinquapin Run

And while there are no more outstanding EWOs, Cardona-Moz said Technopref has filed monetary claims against the city are “currently under review” by the law department.

In July, the Board of Estimates paid $6.7 million to settle claims by Spiniello Cos., who alleged that excessively hard rock and storm damage along Chinquapin Run, located a mile north of the Harford Road Bridge, resulted in heavy financial losses.

The out-of-court agreement added 28% to the original $23 million cost of the sewer and stream restoration project, which the Friends of Herring Run Parks and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation earlier this week described as a failure.

Because state environmental funds were already spent, the full $6.7 million Chinquapin settlement was footed by the city.

So far, the law department has not disclosed how much Technopref is seeking.

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