Bay Bridge work must be redone

Replacing cracked concrete to cost millions, fuel delays

Liability issue unclear, official says

September 24, 2004|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF

The Maryland Transportation Authority, in the middle of a four-year project to rebuild the westbound deck of the Bay Bridge, must tear up and redo more than half of the resurfacing work because of cracks in the concrete, the agency said yesterday.

Fixing the improperly done work will cause further traffic delays and add at least $7 million to the cost of what was to be a $60 million project, according to Thomas L. Osborne Sr., executive secretary of the authority.

"We do not yet have a firm handle on what the new work will cost," he said.

Osborne said the problem does not affect the safety of the bridge -- only its durability.

Transportation Secretary Robert L. Flanagan, the authority's chairman, said fixing the problem will force more lane closings than previously expected -- mostly in spring and fall next year. He said the peak summer season will not be affected.

FOR THE RECORD - An article in Friday's editions incorrectly reported that the Chesapeake Bay Bridge was formerly known as the William Preston Lane Memorial Bridge. That continues to be the bridge's formal name.
The Sun regrets the errors.

However, some of the effects will be immediate. An authority news release announced yesterday that added bridge lane closures would cause "major delays and congestion" each weekend through this November.

The authority, which runs Maryland's toll highways and bridges, is not sure what went wrong or whether the state or the contractor, Cianbro Corp. of Pittsfield, Maine, is liable, Flanagan said.

"We have not determined the issue of fault. That is an important issue, but it is not as important as finding a solution and minimizing inconvenience to our customer," he said.

Flanagan said engineers are testing a possible solution to the problem that caused cracks in concrete laid earlier in the project. He said state engineers believe they can still complete the work by summer 2006.

Transportation officials made no public announcement of the flawed work but confirmed the problems after concerns were raised on an Internet news group frequented by highway engineers and others with an interest in road building.

Del. Peter Franchot, who is chairman of the House appropriations subcommittee on transportation, said he had not been informed and expects to hold a hearing on the matter.

"We will try to establish accountability to make sure this doesn't happen again, because transportation dollars are too scarce," the Montgomery County Democrat said.

Franchot said he hopes the liability will fall on the contractor. "If it should be the state, we'll be very upset during the budget session," he said.

Flanagan said the cracks began appearing last year after the contractor used a "state-of-the-art" resurfacing method intended to speed the project by allowing work to continue in cold weather. He said that when the problem worsened in the spring, the state called in a consultant to evaluate the cracking.

Osborne said the consultant had reported back just within the past month, and that the authority had been planning to notify the General Assembly and the public.

The resurfacing on the westbound bridge involves replacing the bridge deck for the first time since the newer part of the 4.3-mile Bay Bridge -- formerly called the William Preston Lane Jr. Memorial Bridge -- opened in 1973. The older eastbound span, which opened in 1952, was resurfaced in from 1987 to 1989.

The work involves scraping off the upper layer of roadway and adding a new layer of cement to the existing undersurface. To do the work, the authority has closed the left lane of the westbound bridge and closed other lanes at night and on weekends.

Flanagan said 52 percent of the new top layer didn't adhere properly to the concrete layer below. He said that work represents 10 percent of the entire deck reconstruction project.

Cianbro, one of the largest highway construction companies on the East Coast, has extensive experience with bridge projects. Founded in 1949, it is an employee-owned firm with an estimated $300 million in annual sales and 2,000 employees.

The company has had several contracts with the state, including construction and demolition at Dundalk Marine Terminal.

Dottie Hutchins, a spokeswoman for Cianbro, said company engineers had encountered an apparent problem getting the surface to adhere but said the matter was in an "investigative phase."

The snag will apparently compound the woes of motorists who use the bridge this fall.

The authority's news release yesterday said the left lane of the westbound bridge would be closed through Nov. 24. The agency said it would be unable to use the eastbound span to relieve westbound congestion.

Also through November, two lanes of the westbound bridge will be closed each night at 8 p.m., leaving a single lane. From 10 p.m. to 5 a.m., the entire westbound bridge will close and the eastbound span will be used for two-way traffic.

The news release did not mention the resurfacing problems.

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