More needed for Bay Bridge concrete

$7 million estimate for repairing flaws was too low, Flanagan says

October 06, 2004|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF

Transportation Secretary Robert L. Flanagan told a state Senate committee yesterday that ripping out and replacing flawed concrete on the Bay Bridge will cost more than the $7 million previously estimated by the Maryland Transportation Authority.

Flanagan said he could not yet provide a new estimate for the cost of the repair job - work that is increasing the number and duration of lane closings on the bridge.

Under questioning by skeptical lawmakers, Flanagan conceded that the improperly done work was a "very serious mistake."

He promised to try to minimize the inconvenience to motorists and to get to the bottom of what went wrong.

Flanagan, a former Republican legislator, also expressed regret that the public and lawmakers were not informed earlier. "The information involved didn't get out fast enough," he said.

The bridge resurfacing work that must be redone is part of the first full rehabilitation of the deck of the westbound span since it opened in 1973. The project was originally expected to cost $77 million.

The authority released a preliminary report yesterday that found multiple errors in the resurfacing, including inadequate preparation of the subsurface before pouring the cement and a failure to follow manufacturers' recommendations.

The report did not reach conclusions about liability, but pointed to possible errors by the design engineer and the construction contractor.

Transportation officials told the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee that they knew they were facing a "significant problem" as far back as March, prompting Sen. Ida G. Ruben to question why lawmakers weren't informed earlier.

Flanagan, who as transportation secretary also serves as chairman of the authority, said he wasn't aware of the extent of the problem until he was called by a Sun reporter two weeks ago. "There had been a lack of communication," he said.

He said he was told in May about cracking that was expected to cost $1 million to $3 million but heard nothing further until last month.

Flanagan's appearance came a day after Thomas L. Osborne Sr., the authority's chief executive for seven years, resigned. Flanagan said Osborne's decision to resign was his own, but several legislators expressed misgivings.

"I'm extremely unhappy that he left," said Ruben, a Montgomery County Democrat. "I hope he's not being made a fall guy."

Last month, Osborne said the flawed work would add about $7 million to the cost of the project. But Flanagan said yesterday that it would cost more because the state plans to use a more expensive cement and because scraping up the faulty layer could cause damage to the subsurface.

Transportation officials said the original 2001 agreement with Cianbro Corp. gave the contractor the choice of three types of concrete, all approved by the design engineer. They said Cianbro chose micro silica, considered easier to work with in cold weather.

The preliminary report prepared by the Olney-based consulting firm of O'Connell & Lawrence Inc. recommended that the work be redone with a more conventional product.

The state is testing new concrete on a 500-foot section and should have results next week. If the new material bonds to the subsurface, Flanagan said, the contractor should be able to complete the resurfacing of one lane by Thanksgiving and stay on track to finish the entire project by Memorial Day 2006.

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