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News Maryland Harford County Forest Hill

Design of new Watervale bridge near Bel Air consumes time, money

What may one day lay claim to being one of the longest running bridge replacement projects in the annals of the Harford County Department of Public Works had yet another design change order approved last week by the county Board of Estimates.

For more than five years, the ancient one-lane bridge that crosses Winters Run on Watervale Road between Bel Air and Fallston has been ticketed for replacement, but the project has not progressed beyond the design stage. It may be stuck there, a DPW official conceded.

At its meeting in Bel Air Thursday, the Harford County Board of Estimates approved a $33,162 addition to the design contract between the county and Wilson T. Ballard Co., the design engineer, bringing the total amount of the contract to $360,383.

The addition is the third to the original contract of $250,212. The latest addition to the contract qualifies for 80 percent State Highway Administration funding, according to documents submitted to the estimates board, so the county will be on the hook for only $6,632 in additional costs.

The latest change covers a modification of the design of the bridge/roadway interfaces to improve maintainability of roadway joints; modification of retaining walls between Winters Run and Vale Road as requested by the State Highway Administration and preparation of a forest conservation plan. None of the work was covered in the scope of Ballard's original contract, according to the documents provided the estimates board.

Board member Warren Hamilton questioned why the prices quoted for the contract addition were more than a year old, from December 2011, but Julio Espinoza, a structural engineer in the Highways Division of DPW, said the prices quoted are current and that the approval process was complicated.

Hamilton asked how long the project has been going on, and Espinoza replied, "A long time - 2007."

"It must be quite a challenging project," Hamilton said.

According to Espinoza, the project began "before I came to work for the county."

"Hopefully, it will be done before he retires," Harford County Executive David Craig, who chairs the estimates board, said.

"I don't think so," Espinoza replied.

The county has stepped lightly on the replacement of the ancient and historic bridge, involving residents of the area in the planning and design process because of concerns about aesthetics and whether the new bridge should be wide enough to accommodate two vehicles at once. The old bridge, an iron structure that was shored up a few years back by placing a temporary bridge underneath it, can only handle one vehicle at a time, meaning opposing traffic must stop while oncoming vehicles cross.

The Watervale bridge replacement project has a budget appropriation of $3.3 million, according to the county's 2012-13 capital budget.

Other contracts

Among other contracts approved at the most recent Harford County Board of Estimates meeting were:

• A one-year contract for $56,000 was approved with World International Testing Inc. for inspection and repair services during the repair, modification and painting of water storage tanks.

The inspection work, which involves paint mixture, protection for painters working in enclosed areas, welds and other modifications requires certified inspectors and is highly specialized, board members were told by DPW representatives. World submitted the lowest of five bids received, more than $20,000 less than the next lowest bidder.

• A $376,000 contract was approved with Titan Industrial Services Inc. of Baltimore to paint, repair and modify the Abingdon water storage tank, last painted in 2000.

Titan had the lowest of nine bids submitted, and County Councilman Jim McMahan was astounded the bids ranged from a high of $1.9 million to Titan's bid, a difference of some $1.6 million. McMahan was filling in at the meeting for Council President Billy Boniface.

Gregg Bates, an engineer with DPW's Water and Sewer Division, tried to explain to McMahan and the other board members that sometimes companies are from far away and will factor in travel and set up costs or in some cases are "taking a chance" their bid will be the lowest and be accepted.

Which caused McMahan to express his consternation "at the propensity for the county and the people to be fleeced."

• Also approved by the board was a change order to a contract to complete part of the air conditioning system in the new addition to the Harford County Detention Center.

Cole Nelson, representing the Sheriff's Office, explained there were seven utility rooms in the detention center that did not have air conditioning planned for them in the original design, rooms used mainly for telephone and security equipment.

Temp Air Conditioning Company has a contract to install air conditioning in those rooms, but realized there would be additional materials needed - actually a switch in the type of cable to meet the county code, Nelson said. The addendum of $4,235 approved by the board brings the total amount of the contract to $70,930.

Hamilton asked if the architect on the detention center addition would be giving the county some sort of rebate for leaving out the AC in the seven rooms. Nelson replied that company "has not been paid yet."

The board also approved an installation and maintenance contract with Wireless Communications of Baltimore to handle set-up and installation of mobile radios in county vehicles. The hourly rate is $130.75 during normal business hours and $176.95 for after hours and holidays. The annual amount of the contract is not to exceed $200,000.

Mitch Vocke, manager of technology for the Harford County Division of Emergency Operations, explained that most of the work involves installing new mobile radios in fire and EMS equipment and then taking the old radios and installing them in county service vehicles, which will have those sets reprogrammed to the 700 megahertz system. Vocke said the typical cost runs about $300 per vehicle and explained the county had spent about $300,000 under the same contract last year when more installations were done.

The contractor is a sole source supplier, so the deal wasn't bid. Wireless Communications is an authorized subcontractor designated by Motorola, which built the county's radios and owns the software used to operate them.

Hamilton asked if there was only one certified vendor and was told by Vocke the county is at Motorola's mercy because its equipment and software are proprietary.

"That's a pretty good hourly rate...that's a ton of money," Hamilton said.

Craig said the county could always go back to "soup cans and string," which caused Hamilton to complain that Motorola "is like BGE, the only game in town."

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