A $7 million renovation of Harford Road was advanced by city officials yesterday despite questions about the project's design -- which could winnow a portion of the road down to one through-lane -- and the main contractor's past trouble meeting minority-owned business goals.
The streetscape project calls for resurfacing, new sidewalks, lighting and a median that would run nearly 1 1/2 miles from Argonne Drive to Bayonne Avenue. The project, which has been in the works for years and which could break ground this month, is part of an effort to make the corridor more pedestrian-friendly, officials said.
The work was approved yesterday by the Board of Estimates and the contract was awarded to M. Luis Construction Co. of Clinton.
But Councilman Robert W. Curran, who represents the area, said the median would occupy a much-needed lane in the 5400 and 5500 blocks of Harford Road, where several businesses are located. One of the two remaining southbound lanes would be used for parking after the morning rush hour, leaving only one lane for traffic, he said.
"If a car breaks down in the travel lane, you'd have everything come to a halt," Curran said.
Mayor Martin O'Malley, who sits on the board, asked that Department of Transportation officials revisit the design along the congested blocks.
M. Luis Construction, one of the city's largest construction firms, was also criticized yesterday by Arnold Jolivet, president of the Maryland Minority Contractors Association. Jolivet said the company has reported two different presidents, sometimes naming Manuel Luis and at other times listing his wife -- an alteration that could affect the company's woman-owned business status.
Cities and states often require companies performing government work to steer a portion of their contract to minority- and woman-owned firms. Because the state is involved with the funding of the project, M. Luis Construction is allowed to claim itself as a disadvantaged business and use that status to fulfill the minority requirement.
M. Luis Construction came under scrutiny last year when Manuel Luis hired a company owned by his daughters, American Hauling & Paving Inc., to fulfill the city's woman-owned business requirement. City law requires subcontracting firms to be independent of the prime contractor.
American Hauling was decertified as a woman-owned business in 2005.
Claude Edward Hitchcock, an attorney for the construction company, said the previous problems with American Hauling are irrelevant to the current contract for Harford Road. He said the company had never attempted to subvert the city's disadvantaged business program.