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Rumsey bridge work rolling in Shepherdstown

July 23, 2003|by DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. - Work to build a new $15.6 million James Rumsey bridge across the Potomac River at Shepherdstown is under way, a two-year project that also is expected to complement bike and pedestrian travel and a nearby national park, officials said.

Construction crews have started work around the existing bridge on the West Virginia side of the river, which has required that travel on the old bridge be limited to one lane at times, said Bill Shanklin, area engineer for the state Division of Highways.

Shanklin said restricting traffic on the old bridge is not something that will be commonplace.

"That will be kept to a minimum. In general, two lanes will be kept open most of the time," Shanklin said.

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Nonetheless, traffic disruptions are bound to occur with such an extensive project, said Shepherdstown Police Chief Charles Cole.

"You don't do it without interfering with traffic to some degree," Cole said Tuesday.

The existing bridge, which connects W.Va. 480 with Md. 34, had to be replaced because the span, which is more than 60 years old, was deteriorating.

It will be replaced with a two-lane steel bridge that is expected to be open to traffic in November 2004, Shanklin said. Construction crews hope to have the old bridge torn down and that area restored by July 2005, Shanklin said.

In addition to giving area motorists a safe ride across the Potomac River into Maryland, the new bridge, which will be just upstream from the old one, also will be built with bicyclists and pedestrians in mind.

Although the current bridge has a sidewalk on it, it runs along the edge of the road.

"It gives you that closed-in feel," Shanklin said.

The new bridge will have two 12-foot lanes and a 4-foot shoulder that will give motorists room to pull over in case of emergency, Shanklin said.

The sidewalk on the bridge will be a lighted, 8-foot-wide walkway, Shanklin said.

On the Maryland side, a path will extend from the sidewalk to the C&O Canal towpath, Shanklin said.

Precautions have been taken to make sure the construction does not interfere with people using the towpath, said Dan Copenhaver, park engineer for the C&O Canal National Historical Park.

Protective fencing has been placed around the construction area on the Maryland side to prevent towpath users from walking into that area, Copenhaver said.

Safety netting also will be used in the area to keep debris from hitting towpath users, and flag crews could be used to stop foot traffic on the towpath during certain types of construction, Copenhaver said.

Because construction crews needed to use a towpath parking lot on the Maryland side for their operations, they are building a new parking lot for the towpath nearby, Shanklin and Copenhaver said.

"We're moving along. Construction is proceeding, from our perspective, fairly well," said Copenhaver.

When the bridge was being designed, there were concerns about how it would impact the area, such as the nearby Bavarian Inn.

Shanklin said an attractive retaining wall will be built next to the inn as part of the bridge project.

Bavarian Inn officials could not be reached for comment.

Constructing the retaining wall will save construction crews from having to resort to more extreme excavation work near the inn, Shanklin said.

A new entrance also will be built for the Bavarian Inn as part of the project, Shanklin said.

Two concrete piers will be constructed in the Potomac River to support the 1,096-foot bridge, Shanklin said.

That work could begin in about three to four weeks, Shanklin said.

Concrete abutments will be built on each side of the river. Steel supports will have to be driven into the ground to help support the abutments, Shanklin said.

Although the State of Maryland and the federal government helped with the funding of the new bridge, all construction is being conducted by West Virginia, Shanklin said.

West Virginia contributed $1.8 million toward the cost, Maryland chipped in $3.7 million and the remaining money came from the federal government, Shanklin said.

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