A bridge not far enough is getting mixed reviews

Bankruptcy stops Homewood Road job

March 16, 2000|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

When Vernon Krause Jr. built a house on Homewood Road more than 20 years ago, it was a quiet rural lane, a bit west of fast-growing Columbia.

Now it's even quieter.

Work on replacing the World War II-era bridge that carried the road across the Middle Patuxent River stopped traffic in August. Now the work has stopped, delaying the project's expected completion from May until late summer, county officials say.

The Gaithersburg contractor working on the bridge -- and on another bridge on Route 97 at the Howard County-Montgomery County line -- went bankrupt and halted work Jan. 24. The Ulico Casualty Co., of Chino, Calif., which provided the performance bond, is seeking a new contractor to resume the work.

Drivers using Homewood Road as a quick connector between Columbia or Ellicott City and the western county must detour on Sheppard Lane a few miles farther west. Traffic in the area has been disrupted for several years, since the county replaced a similar bridge on Sheppard Lane in 1997.

Many who live west of the Homewood bridge bemoan the extra months of inconvenience. Officials of the Glenelg Country School are especially upset.

"I'm very disappointed," said Glenelg Headmaster Ryland O. Chapman. "Up to 75 percent of our families and all of the buses come across Homewood."

County school bus routes have been disrupted, officials say.

Still, not everyone is unhappy.

"It reminds me of how it was," Krause said recently, as his wife, Dorothy Lennig, tried to decide if the inconvenience outweighed the pleasure.

"It's kind of a pain in the neck to have to drive all the way around, but it's wonderful that there's no traffic" passing their home in the 11800 block of Homewood Road, she said.

`Made it quieter'

Across the fast-flowing river, Robert P. Foreman Jr. and his wife, Lamere, say they, too, have been inconvenienced, because the driveway to their 60-year-old home is behind the "Road Closed" signs, keeping trash trucks, school buses and county snow plows away. But they don't mind too much. "It's made it quieter," Foreman said. But, he said, "We'd like to see them finish it."

Their neighbor, Denise McGovern, has two children who attend Glenelg Country School, and the detour is a major problem for her. "Traffic on Sheppard Lane is just horrible. When the new [construction] company starts work, I will have a party," she said.

People who live in newer developments west of the bridge, such as Chase and Farside, are less forgiving, though they want a newer, safer bridge.

"The bridge was very old and very narrow," said Paul Fuchs, president of the Chase Homeowners Association.

He said large trucks used to take up more than one lane while crossing, so a wider bridge will be welcome. But, he added, the work has caused other problems.

"It adds an extra 10 minutes any way you're going," Fuchs said.

"It's been a total disaster. Why didn't the politicians who make the award check out the [construction company's] credentials?" asked Harve Horowitz of Chase.

Jay Steimetz, county project engineer, says a county-hired crew moved sandbags a few weeks ago to rechannel the stream before trout-spawning season began March 1, preventing stream work until June. Moving the flow of water will allow construction of the northern bridge abutment.

Steimetz says the trout issue won't stop resumption of bridge work once a new contractor is found, and the $1.8 million job should be finished by late summer or fall.

"I would hope somebody would be out there before the end of March. We're pushing them as much as possible to get started as quickly as possible," Steimetz said.

Only the south concrete abutment is complete, he says.

Original contract

The original contract was assigned in January 1999, but no work could begin until after June because of the trout spawning. It was a low-bid award, and the county had no way of knowing that the business, Industrial Construction Co., might be having financial problems, Steimetz says. A performance bond provides protection if a problem occurs.

The new bridge will be wider than the old one, with two 12-foot lanes and two 6 1/2-foot shoulders, and it will be elevated above the 100-year flood plain. It could not be built beside the old structure, because that would have required taking land from neighboring homeowners, says Steimetz.

The State Highway Administration is in charge of the Route 97 bridge replacement, but that hasn't caused traffic disruption, because the new bridge is being built next to the old one. That $2.3 million project is 65 percent complete, a spokeswoman says.

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