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Couple, county at odds over future of bridge

April 25, 2006|by TARA REILLY

BOONSBORO

A century-old, single-lane bridge that spans Beaver Creek near Boonsboro fits its quaint, rural surroundings.

But Washington County wants to replace it with a modern, two-lane bridge designed to hold more vehicles.

The concrete-arch Barnes Road structure, built in 1906, abuts a well-kept property listed on the National Register of Historic Places as the Keedy House. The property contains three stone buildings: a house, a cottage and a spring house.

Kevin and Cindy Damewood, owners of the Keedy House, call the proposed bridge "ugly" and out of place.

"The community surrounding the bridge enjoys the quiet nature of this neighborhood and doesn't want to see it altered," according to a report distributed by the Damewoods.

The county's proposed Capital Improvement Program (CIP) for fiscal year 2007 states the new bridge would cost $1.14 million, most of which would be paid for with federal funding.

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Abba Lichtenstein, a professional engineer who specializes in historic arch bridges, said Monday during a meeting at the Damewood property that while the bridge needs repairs, he found it to be structurally sound.

In addition, he said the bridge had low traffic counts - about 319 vehicles cross the bridge daily, according to a traffic study - no accident reports have been filed, residents haven't raised concerns about the bridge, and there were no skid marks on the rail or guardrail.

Lichtenstein determined there was no reason to replace the bridge. He called the proposed structure a monstrosity.

"This is not the place to put in a big structure," Lichtenstein said. "There really doesn't seem to be a good reason to replace it."

In his feasibility report, Lichtenstein described the bridge to be in "fair to good condition."

"The Barnes Road Bridge can be economically rehabilitated to continue as a safe and efficient crossing over the Beaver Creek," he wrote in the report.

Beth Cole of Maryland Historic Trust urged the county to consider all alternatives that might preserve the bridge.

The Damewoods purchased the property about two years ago knowing the county had plans to replace the bridge. After their own investigation, which included hiring Lichtenstein and a traffic consultant, turned up results favorable to preserving the bridge, the Damewoods began questioning the county about its plans.

Kevin Damewood said if the bridge were dangerous and ready to fall apart, he could agree with replacing it, but that's not the case.

County Chief Engineer Terry McGee acknowledged the bridge doesn't pose an immediate risk and said the county never claimed it did.

The bridge, however, has structural deficiencies and is nearing the end of its "useful life," McGee said.

He said there was no costly way to repair the bridge, and that replacing it is the best option.

With the potential for growth in the Barnes Road area, McGee said a wider bridge is necessary. There are about 1,000 surrounding acres that have the potential to be developed, and even seven to nine new homes would push the traffic count for the bridge to more than 400 vehicles per day, he said.

More vehicles mean more accidents, McGee said.

The Damewoods believe the county's current rural rezoning regulations would limit growth in the area.

McGee said he and Public Works Director Gary Rohrer inspected the bridge and came to the conclusion that it needed to be replaced.

"We're not in the business of tearing down bridges just for the heck of it," McGee said.

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