The Harford County government is seeking the County Council’s approval to transfer $300,000 in funds to help cover the cost of replacing the Robinson Mill Road bridge in Darlington, which has been closed to all traffic for two years.
The total cost is $1.95 million, including $1.6 million for construction, county government spokesperson Cindy Mumby said in an email last last week.
The request for additional funding — $250,000 in federal highway money and $50,000 from the county’s highways fund balance — is contained in Bill 19-003, which was the subject of a public hearing before the County Council March 6.
The council did not take action following the hearing last Tuesday; Council President Patrick Vincenti said he and his colleagues will vote on it at “a later meeting.”
The bridge crosses Broad Creek between Route 136 and the Broad Creek Memorial Scout Reservation. It has been closed to all traffic, including emergency vehicles, since March 2017. The county announced in a March 10, 2017, news release that the bridge would be closed “until further notice.”
Jeffrey Stratmeyer, chief engineer with the Department of Public Works’ Division of Highways, told council members that the project “has been on the books for a number of years,” and officials were ready to proceed with construction about three years ago.
He said the process was held up because of “the inability to obtain all the necessary right of way, especially from one adjacent property.”
“Ultimately, we went to condemnation on that property and finally acquired it last fall,” Stratmeyer said.
The county purchased the right of way on the corner of a larger property nearby, a property that has a dwelling used as a rental unit. A tenant had been living there when the county started the acquisition process. Officials do not know if the unit is currently occupied, but access to the residence will be maintained, according to Mumby.
The bridge was closed to all traffic two years ago, and remains so today, because of the delay from the property acquisition and the condition of the bridge.
The bridge deck’s support beams are rusting and with peeling paint, and there is even a hole in the asphalt allowing a viewer to see to the stream below.
Stratmeyer said the county received two bids, both from firms “we have a very good history with,” after the project was advertised last November, although both bids were above the engineers’ estimates and the available funds. Mumby said Kinsley Construction Co. was the winning bidder selected for the project.
Stratmeyer cited several factors for the higher-than-expected cost, including the difference between estimates and bids offered, the need to maintain access to a nearby residence “next to a very deep excavation,” the “frequent and intense” rain storms last summer that could affect when contractors work in the creek, as well as the improving national economy.
“The improving economy typically has an impact on this type of construction and likely did for this project as well,” Stratmeyer said.
Councilman Robert Wagner asked how much the difference was between the county’s estimates and the bids.
Carlos Smith, a DPW engineer and the bridge project manager, said the difference was “a little over $400,000.”
Councilman Tony Giangiordano asked if such cost overruns have happened on other local bridge projects. Smith said county staff typically include funds for contingencies in their cost estimates.
Stratmeyer noted project costs do not typically run over to the point where there is a request for additional funding.
Councilman Chad Shrodes, whose northern Harford County district includes the area around the bridge, said he supports the bill and even asked to have his name added as a co-sponsor since it affects his district.
He praised Stratmeyer and Smith “sticking in there” with the project, and Smith for his “outstanding” work on other projects.
Shrodes said “it’s been quite a long time to have a bridge closed” and that area residents are “very anxious to have it open back up again, so they can get to all the places that they need to go to and from without taking such a long detour.”
One of those residents, Eric Ritter, also expressed his support during the public hearing. Ritter said he lives about two houses away and used to commute to work by driving west across the bridge to Route 136.
Since the bridge has been closed, he has had to go 3 to 5 miles out of his way, heading south along Day Road to Castleton Road, down to Route 440 and then to Route 136.
He also noted the county cannot get a full-sized snow plow to his area during storms, and must send a pickup truck with a blade, which takes a day or two longer to get up there. Ritter said he is also trapped when a stream on the opposite side of his property floods, and he cannot get out in either direction because of the flooding on one end and the closed bridge on the other.
“We would very much appreciate this project getting moved forward,” Ritter said. “It’s been a couple years now; it’s time to get it going.”
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Aegis photographer Matt Button contributed to this report.