Questions as to whether the replacement Watervale Road bridge, already under design, is really necessary were renewed this week as a county board increased funding for its design.

The $18,798.98 change order to the design contract with Wilson T. Ballard Company was approved Thursday morning by the Harford County Board of Estimates. The additional funding is needed so project will comply with a Department of Transportation regulation.

The bridge, which crosses Winters Run and has long been used as a shortcut between Bel Air and Fallston, will become two lanes. It was briefly closed in August 2009, while a temporary bridge was put in its place.

Construction of the $2 million bridge is expected to begin in May 2013, structural engineer Julio Espinoza said Thursday afternoon. He also said that the design process for the bridge, which has been going on "for a couple years now," will take until the end of 2012.

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Board member Warren Hamilton asked why the county is replacing the bridge.

The one-lane bridge causes traffic to back up during rush hour, Espinoza said, but more importantly, "the structure is not sound." To just restore the bridge would destroy its historical integrity, he added.

County Councilman Jim McMahan asked why the bridge wasn't completely closed if it is structurally unsound. Member Bob Cooper, the director of public works for the county, explained that a temporary bridge was put in place for the time being, but was not a permanent solution.

Since construction on the bridge has been delayed numerous times, Jay Van Deusen asked if this step is "the absolute last thing before we start construction."

"I hope so," Espinoza said.

McMahan questioned why another bridge couldn't be built somewhere else for traffic to be diverted from the one on Watervale Road.

Harford County Executive David Craig explained that while engineers may say they can build a structure anywhere, it might not always been the best thing for the environment or the most cost effective. Replacing the bridge, he went on, is the best option for the county.

The additional money, which will be in addition to the $308,421.63 contract with Ballard, will be used for the project to comply with a section of the federal Department of Transportation Act of 1966. According to a memo sent by Espinoza to Deborah Henderson, director of procurement for the county, the act specifies that the Federal Highway Administration "cannot approve the use of historical sites unless a) there is no feasible and prudent alternative to the use of land and b) the action includes all possible planning to minimize harm to the property resulting from use."

The work needed to adhere to these requirements was not "included in Ballard's approved scope of work," the memo went on.

Board of Estimates member Jay Van Deusen asked if those involved weren't aware of the requirements or if it was a caveat in beginning construction. Espinoza replied that he was aware of the requirements, but didn't know that the regulations specified in the act would be required for the bridge.

Despite hesitations from McMahan and Hamilton, the contract was unanimously approved.

Wheel Road improvements

Verizon crews are working more hours than originally planned to complete the company's utility relocation on Wheel Road. The increase in hours resulted in a $37,000 increase in costs for traffic control, a change order the board approved. The original contract was for $95,124, but will be bumped up to $132,124.

Glen Hebel, civil engineer for the department of public works, told the board that Verizon had wanted the county to allow the road to be closed, but "they wouldn't." The road was reduced to one lane during the project, which has cost the company more time and money.

To avoid such instances from occurring again, Hamilton suggested that anticipated traffic costs should be included in proposals, rather than having additional money awarded.

McMahan, frustrated with Verizon not including costs for traffic control in its original proposal, said, "What happened to when people bid on a contract and they had to work within that contract?" He then called the company "inefficient," saying he sees Verizon trucks on Wheel Road not moving and no visible progress being made on the project. "I think we need to stay on them like a sick dog."