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Collapsed East 26th Street to cost more than $18.5 million to restore

Repairing the city block that collapsed during heavy rains in Charles Village last month will cost the city more than $18.5 million, according to city officials and a cost estimate released Tuesday.

The Department of Transportation will request approval for spending $18,563,863 from the Board of Estimates on Wednesday,, officials said, though the city remains in talks with CSX Transportation about who will ultimately pay for the repairs.

"Coordination with CSX is ongoing to address design review, construction sequencing, and costs," Transportation Director William Johnson wrote in a status report to the Board of Estimates. "It is our recommendation that all costs are addressed at this time in the interest of completing the work, and recoveries be made to reimburse the City as items are negotiated and settled over the coming months."

Residents of homes along the first block of East 26th Street, displaced after it collapsed into a parallel cut of CSX railroad tracks on April 30, should be able to return to their homes on or before June 15, Johnson said in an interview. By then a temporary retaining wall and new gas, water and electrical services should be installed, he said. However, construction on the permanent replacement wall could last six months.

The city and CSX have split costs for repairing retaining walls along the railroad's tracks in the past.

Rob Doolittle, a CSX spokesman, said in an email that CSX "continues to cooperate with the city in addressing the necessary repairs, and we appreciate their leadership and focus on returning displaced residents to their homes as quickly as possible."

He did not have a comment on the city's estimated cost for the project.

The collapse disrupted rail traffic for more than a day along a main artery serving the port of Baltimore.

Workers at the site are drilling 65 holes into the street, filling them with pilings and creating a new, temporary wall to support the street and the homes on it. Once that is completed, crews will excavate the soil around the piles, build a new permanent wall and then backfill the open space. The street will be reconstructed after that.

The new cost estimate, completed by the engineering firm Whitman Requardt & Associates, provides nearly $5.4 million for the temporary wall; more than $10.6 million for the permanent wall; about $1.5 million for street reconstruction and testing; and about $1 million for engineering design and the city's internal personnel costs related to the collapse.

The Transportation Department selected Whitman to lead design work for the project shortly after the collapse occurred, and without a bidding process, under an existing on-call contract that allowed the Baltimore-based firm to get to work immediately, Johnson said.

The department selected Concrete General as prime contractor, also without bidding. The Gaithersburg-based company was already in the middle of a $28 million project to reconstruct nearby North Charles Street from 25th Street to University Parkway and could mobilize quickly to begin repairing East 26th Street, Johnson said.

The emergency need for the street to be stabilized for safety and the desire to see residents returned to their homes as soon as possible warranted skipping the normal bidding process, Johnson said. Finance Director Harry Black granted the Transportation Department emergency procurement authority shortly after the collapse.

Black said that the money will come from the city's general fund, but that he also will work with Johnson and Department of Public Works Director Rudolph Chow to determine whether funding can be repurposed, from water and wastewater budgets for utilities on the street and capital improvement funding for street restoration.

Black said he does not think the city will have to tap into its rainy-day fund to cover costs.

"We anticipate having sufficient net revenue that will allow us to cover this to the extent that it's going to need to be covered," he said.

The $18.5 million estimate does not include costs incurred by the city's police, fire, emergency management or housing agencies, all of which responded to the landslide and were told to track costs related to it under standard procedures for emergency responses. Those costs are not finalized, but are expected to be relatively minor, Black said.

The Transportation department has already spent more than $90,000 on staff overtime, wages, equipment and materials related to the project, according to Johnson's memo.

Negotiations with CSX may change the way the city pays down its costs as well, Black said.

"We're hopeful that at some point in the future, the city will work something out with CSX and get some sort of contribution there, but obviously in the meantime we have to deal with the situation at hand," Black said.

Johnson said crews are working around the clock to install the temporary wall, only taking breaks to allow for utilities crews to begin restoring water and other services to the street.

Barring "any additional unforeseen construction related delays," residents will be allowed to move back into their homes by June 15, he said. However, they will have to gain access to their homes from the rear alley, because the street will remain an active construction site for some time.

"It's a fairly small site," he said, "and fairly large pieces of equipment."

krector@baltsun.com

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Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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