The eternal construction project on Monocacy Boulevard, which has paralyzed traffic on the east side of Frederick for almost two years, has blown through completion deadlines to the point at which the city no longer wants to even guess when it might be done.
Monocacy Boulevard has long been designated the major surface road artery on the east side. From the new interchange with U.S. 15 on the north side, which was finally completed this year, the road wends its way around the city center to end at South Market Street, in front of Costco.
With burgeoning growth on the area, the city needed to add traffic capacity by building a second span to the bridge over the Monocacy River and widening the road to four lanes from Gas House Pike to the intersection of Schifferstadt Boulevard and East Church Street, where Monocacy turns south.
But, in one of the worst decisions in local government history, the city decided to close the entire road over the course of the project rather than find a way to build a temporary route to allow drivers to continue using the original bridge.
A half-mile section of the road was closed in October 2017. The project was supposed to take 18 months, but 22 months have now gone by. The new bridge appears to be done, but the road is still unfinished.
The road was supposed to reopen in April, but by May, city officials were hoping for an opening in late July or early August.
But Tracy Coleman, deputy director of public works for engineering and operations for the city, told The Frederick News-Post last week that there are still a number of things to do before the road can be opened to traffic. The contractor must complete a gas line and a water line, fill in areas for the road behind a retaining wall and near the bridges, paving, curb and gutter work, sidewalks, streetlights and other details.
“As far as opening the road, I can’t give a hard date yet,” she told our reporter.
That is really not a good answer.
The impact on commuters and business owners has been terrible. Md. 26, Schifferstadt Boulevard, North Market Street and U.S. 15 have all been stressed to the maximum.
It was a misbegotten project from the beginning. In an editorial at the time of the closing, we wondered if any city official had looked at the 18-month timeline and thought: ”Well, this will never work.”
No one came forward to take the credit or blame, but the city’s voters turned Mayor Randy McClement out of office weeks later. Did the project cost McClement the election? We will never know for certain, but it appears that, if it did not cause his defeat, it contributed to it.
Mayor Michael O’Connor should take heed. We trust the road will be opened long before voters return to the polls in November 2021 to choose a mayor, but some irritated drivers and business owners can be expected to have a long memory.
The mayor needs to show strong political leadership and swiftly bring this project to completion. Whether the long delay is the fault of the contractor or the city supervisors, the mayor’s office is where the public will express its opinion.
It will be no fun for O’Connor to have to explain during a political campaign why the road project was allowed to drag on into a third year or worse.