City officials on Monday touted the partial opening of the Central Avenue Bridge, connecting the Harbor East and Harbor Point developments — a project that was delayed more than a year and a half and won’t be finished until the end of September.
The bridge, funded with $10 million of the city’s $107 million tax-increment financing for Harbor Point, was supposed to be finished in time for the opening of Exelon’s $270 million, 20-story building in November 2016.
Mayor Catherine E. Pugh, City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young and Transportation Director Michelle Pourciau walked across the bridge Monday. It opened to two lanes of traffic, pedestrian and bike access; another two traffic lanes will be added in the next three months.
Pugh called the project a success, and said it will create better access to the 3 million square feet of mixed-use space planned for the 27-acre Harbor Point site on the east side of downtown.
“This is a really important corridor for us,” she said. “Opening up this bridge is essential to the development and the community as a whole, coming together, working together, and at least providing the opportunities for us to engage from one section of our city to the other.”
The bridge creates a second road connection to the Harbor Point peninsula, which previously could be reached only via South Caroline Street. Other improvements to the Central Avenue corridor are planned.
Pourciau attributed the year and a half delay in building the bridge to “latent conditions,” a construction term for unforeseen problems with a building site. She did not specify what those conditions were.
The soil and groundwater beneath Harbor Point are riddled with toxic chromium entombed beneath a cap of clean soil, plastic, clay and gravel up to 5 feet thick, The Baltimore Sun reported in 2013.
The city Department of Transportation said construction was delayed nine months; it’s unclear why the project missed its deadline by more than a year and a half. In addition to the latent conditions, the department blamed the delay on “accommodations to nearby businesses [and] other development in the corridor.”
The delay cost the city about $67,000, according to agency spokesman German Vigil.
“Delays always have implications,” Pourciau said.
Pugh interrupted her transportation director to emphasize that her administration had been working diligently to complete the bridge.
“We have been in office since December 2016,” the mayor said. “We hired Michelle six months later. This has been moving forward. I said, ‘Let’s pay attention to this. Let’s get it done.’ And here we are, a year later, and it’s done. It really just takes focus.”
Young attributed the delay to obstacles in getting barges into place for construction. Barges had to be used to build it in place of cranes, the council president said.
“If they were able to get the barge there, this bridge would have been done,” Young said. “It was delayed because they couldn’t get the barge where they really originally wanted to get it.
“With delays, costs go up. Are we happy with that? No. … I’m just happy where we are today.”
The bridge is a long-awaited “game changer” for Harbor Point, said Jonathan Flesher, vice president of development at the Beatty Development Group, which built the Exelon building.
“We’ve been waiting for it quite some time,” Flesher said. “It really opens up the peninsula to Harbor East and the city beyond.”