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Bridge is still on hold

July 30, 2004|by JULIE E. GREENE

julieg@herald-mail.com

WASHINGTON COUNTY - Drivers who use the Broadfording Road bridge over Conococheague Creek might have to wait a year or possibly four years until the bridge reopens.

How long their wait will be depends on whether the Washington County Commissioners, who rejected the latest repair bid for the bridge Thursday morning, decide whether to get the bridge repaired or build a new one.

The Washington County Commissioners voted 5-0 to reject Pennsylvania contractor George Hann's bids to finish the bridge repairs in favor of letting staff try to negotiate a contract while simultaneously exploring the possibility of building a new bridge.

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The single-lane, stone arch bridge was closed for repairs in June 2003, but county officials terminated the construction contract in March 2004 because they were dissatisfied with the pace of the work by BEKA Industries of Pasadena, Md.

The county awarded BEKA a $693,000 contract in April 2003.

When asked after the meeting when the bridge would reopen if a new bridge had to be built, County Chief Engineer Terry McGee estimated four years.

Upon learning of the news Thursday, some Broadfording Road residents said they didn't want a new bridge. They just want the existing one fixed ... and fast.

"It's going to be quite a pain for us living up here," said Diane Baker, who lives on Broadfording Road, west of the bridge.

Baker and other residents complained about the added miles and gas usage because of detours.

At least one nearby resident wanted to see a new bridge, but within six months or a year.

"I'm not above going down and tearing it down myself. This is how angry I am. I have a sledgehammer. I am really, really angry," Kathy Harbaugh said. She later said she wouldn't really take a sledgehammer to the bridge, though she doesn't believe it has significant historical value.

On Thursday, the commissioners agreed to reject Hann's $3.2 million standard bid and $2.6 million alternate bid to finish the work. The county's estimated cost to finish the project was $890,965.

McGee said not many contractors were interested in the project, possibly because of the busy construction climate.

So McGee's recommendation was to declare the bridge an emergency situation because it has caused a significant detour for area residents.

The idea to explore the possibility of a new bridge came from Commissioner John Munson, who wondered whether building a new one would be more cost-effective in the long run.

With the planned repairs, the bridge's life expectancy is 70 years, excluding touchup work, McGee said.

The bridge occasionally takes a beating from severe weather, McGee said.

Since the project began, the bridge has had more damage from either something hitting it during a high-water event or water eroding the outer stonework so that the dirt, sand and gravel inside one of the piers began spilling out.

The repair work requires the bridge surface to be removed so the dirt, sand and gravel filling the bridge and its piers can be dug out and the bridge can be filled with concrete, McGee said after the meeting.

The commissioners want the answers to at least two questions before deciding whether to pursue a new bridge.

McGee said he is waiting for an answer to whether the federal government would still pay for 80 percent of the project if the commissioners decide a new bridge is to be built.

McGee estimated a new bridge could cost $3.5 million, but after the meeting he said that price could escalate to $4 million in two years because of inflation. On an accelerated track, it could take two years to complete design and permit work.

The other issue McGee needs to determine is whether federal, state and Maryland Historic Trust officials would allow the county to tear down the bridge so the current right-of-way could be used. The bridge, which dates to the 1800s, is eligible for the national register of historic places. That status limits what can be done to the bridge, McGee said.

While McGee's staff explores the new bridge option, they also will negotiate with three contractors who have expressed interest in the repair project to see if a contract can be reached.

How long the work would take would be part of those negotiations, but McGee said after the meeting that he hoped to have it open within a year.

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