The State Highway Administration expects its project to shore up a portion of Route 24, along the banks of Deer Creek in Rocks State Park, will take several more months to complete, an agency spokesperson said Monday.
"We were trying to get the road open by the end of the year," SHA spokesperson Charlie Gischlar said. "There were some utility issues that we had to deal with that precluded us from getting it open by the end of the year, so we're looking now at spring, early summer to be able to get this finished and opened."
Gischlar said workers had to relocate electrical and communication lines in the work area and then trees had to be trimmed – which required a permit – in the areas where the utilities were moved.
Road work and landscaping also have been delayed by this winter's snow, ice and frigid temperatures, he said.
Meanwhile, the 1,800-foot work area between Rocks Chrome Hill Road and St. Clair Bridge Road has been closed to traffic since mid-July.
Since the work got underway, SHA has asked people who use the 7.7-mile section of Route 24, between the intersections with Route 23 in Forest Hill and Route 165 in Pylesville, as a commuter route between central and northern Harford to instead use detours via Routes 23 and 165.
Route 24 remains open to local traffic on either end of the construction zone.
In addition to being several months behind schedule, the project has been marred by tragedy.
One worker was killed and another injured Jan. 16 when they were struck by a Jersey wall and debris that fell down the stream bank to the water after a piece of construction equipment hit it.
Gischlar called the accident, which is under investigation by Maryland Occupational Safety and Health, "tragic."
Summar J. Goodman, deputy director of communications for MOSH's parent agency, the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation, said Monday that the investigation is ongoing, and officials "cannot comment on an open investigation."
Gischlar said the temperatures must be 50 degrees or higher "pretty consistently" before the road can be repaved and plantings can be put in the soil.
"If we get consistently good weather, that helps and [the road] will be open sooner rather than later," he said.
Gischlar noted workers have completed about 85 percent of the new retaining wall that is being built to shore up the stream bank and prevent erosion that could undermine the roadway, although recent snow storms have held up that work, too.
"We can have the same problem during the height of summer if it's precipitating outside," he noted.
Workers have been building a 500-foot-long wall at the northern end of the stream bank and a 150-foot slope stabilization area, which includes boulders, deep-rooted vegetation and grading.
Gischlar said the delays are not expected to have a significant impact on the cost of the $6.2 million project.
County Councilman Chad Shrodes, whose northern Harford County district includes the work area, said he has visited it several times since work began.
He recognizes that the road closure is "a little bit inconvenient for motorists at the moment," but noted the weather conditions are far from ideal for road improvements.
"I know they don't want to lay the asphalt with the temperatures being so cold," Shrodes said.
He noted that he has seen crews and their equipment hard at work each time he has visited, and the wall on the northern end is nearly complete.
"The work looks superb," he said. "I think the community's going to be very happy with the project once its complete."
Shrodes said he has heard few complaints from members of the community, especially since most motorists have figured out their daily commutes with the detours.
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"Hopefully, the folks that might be a little inconvenienced can hold in there just a little longer so [the SHA] can complete the project in the best way possible," he said.