Berlin Using Same Contractor On Next Sidewalk Repair Phase

BERLIN – Another 800 feet of downtown sidewalk will be replaced this summer, continuing Berlin’s initiative to improve walkways in town.

Washington St., which has already had some areas replaced, will see the most sidewalk work with the reconstruction of 225 linear feet. 

On West St., 214 linear feet of sidewalk will be reconstructed along with 30 feet of curb.

Jefferson St. will see 110 feet of sidewalk replaced.

According to Mayor Gee Williams, who has been pushing for sidewalk repair and reconstruction particularly in the downtown area, the sidewalk along Jefferson Street that ends at the edge of the Atlantic Hotel property leaves two new businesses with no pedestrian walkway to their doors.

“If people don’t see a sidewalk there, they’re going to assume there’s no place to go,” said Williams.

Sidewalks on two sides of Baker St. will also be reconstructed, 80 feet on the north side and 70 feet on the south side.

“Baker St. is in sore need of work,” said Williams.

The downtown sidewalks to be replaced are cracked and buckled, Public Works Director Mike Gibbons said. Wheelchairs could not get through on those walkways.

The sidewalks to be replaced were identified during a walking survey several weeks ago by Williams and Gibbons.

The first phase of sidewalk replacement is already under way on Pitt, Jefferson and Washington streets.

The town is paying for the work without state highway funds. The Main Street Maryland program, a local and state initiative to improve Berlin’s economic infrastructure, contributed $4,200 to the sidewalk work.

“The Maryland Main Street committee has been very supportive with these upgrades,” Williams said.

The Maryland State Highway Administration (SHA) will not be contributing funds, Williams said, this year.

The town has offered to partner financially with SHA on replacing or repairing wheelchair ramps when the state has funding available in a bid to bump the work up the project list.

The phase 2 sidewalk work may take longer than expected. The contractor undertaking the phase one sidewalk replacements has not completed that work and is now about three weeks behind schedule.

The first phase was estimated to take three to four weeks, but week seven has arrived and the work is still not finished.

“It could have moved along quite a bit quicker,” said Gibbons.

The same contractor has put in the lowest bid on the second phase, at $23,500.

The only other bidder has offered to do the work for $44,700, nearly twice as much.

Williams said the town should require time limits on getting the work done.

“It can’t go on indefinitely…quite frankly, this is a concern for the current contractor,” Williams said.

The sidewalk work cannot be back-up work for the contractor, he said.

There is no completion clause in the current sidewalk reconstruction contract, so the contractor is not subject to any penalty for the delay, some of which could be attributed to the spat of inclement weather of late.

Williams said the town needs to require a performance bond on the next phase of the project, which, he said, the contractor has not been able to provide in the past.

Bidding requirements need to be evenly applied to all prospective contractors, Williams said.

The town cannot allow one bidder to flout the bid requirements, town administrator Tony Carson said.

“You’re putting the other contractors at a disadvantage on the bid,” Carson said.

Any bidder who does not abide by those standards has an advantage, according to Carson.

“When you’re bidding on a contract, you have to have those costs in the bid,” Carson said, adding that increases the costs to the contractors and thus increases the amount of the bid. Without the required performance bond, the other bids would be lower.

Williams urged the town council to give the current contractor the chance to adjust the low bid to meet the requirements.

The current contractor is from Worcester County, said Councilman Elroy Brittingham, and should be awarded the second phase of the sidewalk replacement work.

“This guy is struggling…he needs the work,” said Brittingham. “I just believe it’s good to help the people close to your hometown if they can do the work.”

Councilwoman Lisa Hall supported keeping the current contractor on the job.

“We’ve waited 50 years for the sidewalks. Let ‘em go. Let ‘em keep working if it saves the town money,” she said.

The town council voted unanimously to award the phase two work to the current contractor, with the provision that he must meet all bidding requirements, including the performance bond, and will abide by the completion clause.