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New Rumsey Bridge faces trouble under the water

January 06, 2004|by DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. - A clay-and-rock-filled crack has been found in bedrock of the Potomac River where crews plan to construct one of two piers for the new $15.6 million James Rumsey Bridge, a West Virginia highways official said Monday.

The discovery means that state highway officials must find a new way to support the pier, said Ahmed Mongi, a project manager for the West Virginia Division of Highways.

Mongi said he does not think the public needs to be alarmed and he does not think it will affect the safety of the new span.

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"You always run into things you did not expect," Mongi said. "This is just one of those hurdles we have to overcome and move on."

Just before the holidays, construction crews discovered the opening, inside of which is softer rock, Mongi said.

The opening was found in the area where construction crews were preparing to build a concrete pier on the Maryland side of the river, Mongi said.

Although the opening is in the river, a temporary dam was constructed in the area to enable workers to remove water from the area where the pier is to built, said Bill Shanklin, area engineer for the state Division of Highways.

Mongi said the opening is typical of the karst in the area.

Karst is defined as a region made up of porous limestone containing fissures and sinkholes and characterized by underground caves and streams.

Mongi described the opening in the river as a "fissure" or a "clay seam."

After the opening was found, construction crews conducted exploratory drilling to determine how big the area was, Mongi said.

"The more we excavated, the more we found of the poor-quality rock," Mongi said.

Concrete was placed in the opening to stabilize the area until highways officials can determine a way to support the pier, Mongi said.

One possibility is to drive steel pilings through the soft material in the opening until a firm footing is found, Mongi said.

Construction crews are in the process of lining up material for the work, a process that might take "a few days or a few weeks," Mongi said.

He said he believes the extra work will not significantly alter the scheduled completion date for the bridge, which is expected to open to traffic in November.

The extra work will increase the cost of the project, but it is unclear by how much, Mongi said.

West Virginia highways officials are consulting with Maryland highway officials and contractors at the scene about how to proceed, Mongi said.

Although the State of Maryland and the federal government helped fund 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, highway officials have said.

An existing bridge at the site had to be replaced because the span, which was more than 60 years old, was deteriorating.

The new bridge will be lighted and will have an 8-foot walkway. On the Maryland side, a path will extend from the sidewalk leading down the riverbank to the C&O Canal towpath.

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