After months of delays, even Thursday’s ribbon-cutting for the long-awaited bridge over the Monocacy River in Frederick didn’t go quite as planned.
Employees from Milani Construction gathered to mark the official opening of the two bridges over the Monocacy River on Monocacy Boulevard, which should have ended the long-awaited project that has snarled traffic on the city’s east side for more than two years.
Nearby, crews continued to work on one of the bridges, in the hopes of having it open to traffic by the afternoon.
So rather than holding Thursday’s ribbon-cutting at Monocacy Boulevard, Schifferstadt Boulevard and East Church Street, it took place on the private access road to the city’s water treatment plant, down Monocacy Boulevard from the intersection leading to the bridge.
The bridge was waiting for some striping to be put down before it could open, which was held up by the recent cold weather, said Milani’s Filitsa Katsani.
The city announced the bridge’s opening at 2:30 p.m. Thursday.
Company President Saeed Milani hailed the work of his crews on the project who faced “many, many challenges,” as they celebrated the project’s substantial completion.
No city or county elected attended Thursday’s ribbon-cutting, although Frederick County Council President M.C. Keegan-Ayer and Councilwoman Jessica Fitzwater sent staff members to represent them at the event.
City officials were invited to the event, but weren’t consulted on scheduling, city spokeswoman Ashley Waters said Thursday.
The city’s focus was on getting the road open, she said.
The section of Monocacy Boulevard was closed in October 2017, and was originally expected to be reopened in April.
It included building a second bridge adjacent to the old one across the Monocacy, widening about 3,550 feet of the road to a four-lane arterial road and adding a new traffic signal at Monocacy Boulevard and Gas House Pike, along with new bike and pedestrian paths and other amenities. Both bridges are now operational, each carrying traffic in one direction across the river.
But a variety of complications began to arise almost as soon as the project began, leading to disagreements between Milani and the city about the delays.
On Wednesday, Milani sent out an invitation to Thursday’s ribbon-cutting that placed the blame for delays on the city’s planning and engineering staff and condemned “opportunistic political blaming and finger pointing” about the project.
In a statement, Frederick Mayor Michael O’Connor said the city “greatly disputes the assertions” in the Milani statement.
In a construction trailer where Milani staff and others waited for the start of Thursday’s ceremony, a large poster documented 83 claimed problems that arose over the course of the project.
It’s hard to finish a job “when you have issues everywhere,” said Joe Trapani, Milani’s area manager for the project.
The city and company used to have progress meetings to discuss the project, at which the city took minutes and would post them online, Trapani said.
But they found that the minutes included only the city’s points, and when Milani asked to have their perspective included, the city refused, Trapani said.
Eventually, there were no more meetings.
Waters said Thursday that the city would not respond to Milani comments, except to say that they “completely dispute” all of them.
Trapani also said Thursday that the company had offered the city mediation to resolve disputes over the process, but the city refused.
The mediation offer would have required the city to give up certain guarantees that were included in the contract for the project.
“We are still open to mediation,” Waters said in a statement Thursday. “However, we will not go into mediation if it requires us to forfeit the rights in our existing contract.”
Trapani said “there’s always hope” that the two sides can still mediate their differences, and Milani has no strong interest in going to court over the project.
“That’s always the last resort,” he said.