Completion date hangs on legal resolution
Even if work started this year, the span wouldn't be completed until 2006.
By MARY GRZEBIENIAK
MERCER, Pa. -- A county official said that whether work resumes on the Oakland Avenue Viaduct this year will depend on how quickly a legal matter is resolved.
Mercer County Solicitor William McConnell Jr. told county commissioners Thursday that work could get under way before the bad weather arrives. The bridge has been closed for four years.
But that schedule depends on how negotiations go with the Maryland company that issued the contractor's performance bond. If a takeover agreement is not reached quickly, the project could remain stalled, McConnell added.
Under a takeover agreement, the bonding company would hire another contractor to finish the work.
Seeking to collect on bond
McConnell outlined the events that led to Wednesday's announcement that the county is now seeking to collect on the performance bond of contractor Carmen Paliotta of Library, Pa. He has been paid $2.9 million for work he completed on the $3.6 million job before work was halted because of a beam misalignment.
The bond was not called until now, McConnell explained, because it took several years of review by engineers to determine the construction defect was the contractor's responsibility.
He said the contractor failed to construct concrete pedestals on the north side of the bridge in the proper position. He said Paliotta had questioned whether soil studies done by a subcontractor were in error and had caused sinking. If the bond had been called before fault was determined, the county would have had liability.
At this point, he said the bonding company is making its own determination of whether the contractor is at fault and whether it will pay to complete the bridge.
Date still up in the air
Once a takeover agreement is reached, McConnell said, the county will be in a better position to estimate a completion date. He did say that even if work begins before the end of the year, it will probably not be completed until next year.
The engineers also have determined that the misalignments can be fixed without taking down the bridge, McConnell said.
He pointed out that though county commissioners have been harshly criticized in many quarters for the bridge construction delay, and the county technically owns the bridge, is it "essentially a PennDOT project" with commissioners' having little say in the situation.
Funding comes from the federal and state governments.
He also said that PennDOT has reimbursed the county for $200,000 in legal expenses it has incurred in trying to get the bridge construction moving.
A tentative agreement had been reached in August, with Paliotta's agreeing to resume work on the bridge. But the agreement fell through when Paliotta demanded that the county waive its right to pursue damages for each day of construction delay if Paliotta reinstated his lawsuit against the county.
The county also has a lawsuit pending against Paliotta.