Despite receiving only one bid that came in over budget, the Annapolis City Council voted Monday to approve a $1.8 million overhaul of traffic signals and crosswalks at Church Circle, a crucial intersection in downtown Annapolis.
The 6-3 vote followed a long presentation from Lisa Grieco, a civil engineer in the city’s Department of Public Works, who argued that after five years of planning, it was time to move forward with the project despite skyrocketing costs.
“Public Works deems this a safety issue that cannot be ignored,” Grieco said. “Unfortunately we received only a single bid.”
That bid, from Glen Burnie contractor Scott A. Duncan, came in at $1.6 million, double the projected construction estimate. A company spokesperson said he could not explain the high cost and the company’s owner was not available Tuesday.
The scope of Duncan’s work includes replacing the traffic signal poles and bringing the intersection up to Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) codes. Another roughly $200,000 is needed for ancillary costs including engineering, utility and archeological work, Grieco said.
“This is excessive,” said Ward 6 Alderman DaJuan Gay, who voted against the funding allocation after complaining that other city intersections are being overlooked in favor of the Historic District. “There are better uses for our capital improvement funds.”
Ward 5 Alderman Brooks Schandelmeier advocated for spending the money on traffic calming devices and raised crosswalks rather than relying on signals. He also voted against the project, as did Ward 1 Alderwoman Elly Tierney, who represents the Historic District.
Tierney’s proposed alternative — waiting for the construction bubble to burst — could leave the city liable to lawsuits if one of the aging poles fell, City Attorney Mike Lyles said.
“The city’s opposition to spending a certain amount of money to insure that individuals are not injured or killed would likely not make for good testimony on the city’s behalf,” Lyles said.
Named for St. Anne’s Episcopal Church, which sits at the center, Church Circle has been a key Anglican worship site for Marylanders since 1704, although the present building was not completed until 1859. Seven different roadways, including Main Street and West Street, extend from the circle like spokes on a wheel. Traffic signal improvements have been in the works since 2018, when a city-wide assessment determined that 11 of the 18 poles at the intersection were structurally deficient.
The poles date to 1985, and were only expected to last 25-years, Grieco said. “That’s way beyond their useful life.”
Several poles are rusted, some have holes and one is bent from being struck by a vehicle, Grieco said. The city’s Historic Preservation Commission requires special powder-coated paint and brickwork around the poles, she said, and cost of poles alone has doubled since the pandemic, she said.
Mayor Gavin Buckley supported the project, pointing out that many city events take place at Church Circle or close to it, including the annual Tuba Christmas concert, set for Dec. 10 at St. Anne’s.
“I want those tuba players coming back here,” the mayor said.
Of course, the work will not be completed in two weeks, but perhaps by Tuba Christmas 2023. Grieco said Tuesday that construction will likely begin in January and take approximately one year to complete.