Bridge errors to be probed

Much of resurfaced span across the bay must be redone because of cracks

2 former highway officials hired

Delegate questions need for `expensive' state study

September 25, 2004|By Andrew A. Green | Andrew A. Green,SUN STAFF

The Maryland Transportation Authority selected a former state highways chief yesterday to investigate what went wrong with the rebuilding of the westbound Bay Bridge and how the problem can be fixed.

More than half of the resurfaced deck will have to be torn up and redone because of cracking concrete, the agency revealed Thursday. The work is expected to worsen traffic and add at least $7 million to the $60 million, four-year project.

State Transportation Secretary Robert L. Flanagan said yesterday that he has hired Hal Kassoff, who was head of the State Highway Administration from 1984 to 1996, to lead a team of consultants charged with ensuring that the repairs are done correctly and with the least traffic disruption.

"We want to make sure that the solution that is being developed is a solution that we can count on, and that it is being implemented in the most expeditious manner," Flanagan said.

Flanagan said he has also contracted with Walter E. Woodford Jr., the former chief state highways engineer who oversaw construction of the westbound span in 1973.

Most of the details of the project - such as who will be on the team, how long the investigation will run and how much the analysis will cost - will be determined after an organizational meeting Tuesday, Flanagan said.

Flanagan, who is also head of the transportation authority, said that an internal team of engineers has been working to fix the problem for the past two weeks, but that he wants Kassoff's group to conduct an objective investigation and double-check the state's work to make sure mistakes aren't repeated.

"Certainly, we've got to make sure ... there is nothing in the fix that's going to involve any of the problems in the past," said Kassoff, who works for the international engineering firm Parsons Brinckerhoff.

A major question that must be resolved, Flanagan said, is whether the state or the project contractor, Cianbro Corp. of Pittsfield, Maine, is responsible for the problem.

Because litigation is possible, a separate set of consultants within Kassoff's team will look into the issue of liability, Flanagan said.

"He's somebody who is independent, who is known for his candor and his integrity, and will give the public the unvarnished truth," Flanagan said.

But Del. Peter Franchot, who is chairman of the House appropriations subcommittee on transportation, said the commission seems unnecessary.

"Obviously, a mistake has been made and something needs to be resolved - but hiring an expensive blue-ribbon commission?" he said. "From my perspective, we're at risk of wasting tens of millions of dollars already. There's plenty of expertise at the Department of Transportation. They should get to the bottom of it and fix the problem."

Franchot, a Montgomery County Democrat, added that the creation of the panel increases his concern that the mistake is the state's fault, not the contractor's.

"It implies that we're really concerned at the state level that we did something wrong," he said.

The resurfacing, which requires contractors to scrape away the upper layer of roadway and apply new concrete, is the first the westbound span has undergone since it was built 30 years ago.

The project is scheduled for completion in 2006, and Flanagan said he is optimistic that it will be completed on time. However, he said the need to redo part of the work will likely mean lane closures into the spring of 2006.

One lane had been scheduled to be closed weekdays through Thanksgiving, but the state will also close it this weekend because of the problem, Flanagan said.

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