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I-70 bridges to be replaced in Washington County over Black Rock Road

November 02, 2007|By JOSHUA BOWMAN

WASHINGTON COUNTY - In the wake of a Minneapolis bridge collapse that killed 16 people in August, Maryland transportation officials say they have increased efforts to ensure the safety of the state's bridges.

As part of those efforts, they have added a third major Washington County project to their six-year transportation budget - replacing both Interstate 70 bridges over Black Rock Road.

"Maryland's bridges are safe," State Highway Administrator Neil J. Pedersen said Thursday during a meeting with Washington County officials. "But preserving them has become our highest priority."

Pedersen said the state will begin replacing the eastbound and westbound I-70 bridges over Black Rock Road by July 2008. He said the bridges were built along with the interstate more than 50 years ago.

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The $6.7 million project will finish in the fall of 2009, Pedersen said.

About 30 percent of the state's bridges are more than 50 years old, said Beverley K. Swaim-Staley, deputy secretary of the Maryland Department of Transportation. Swaim-Staley attended the meeting - which was held to brief county officials on the state's transportation priorities - in place of Maryland Secretary of Transportation John D. Porcari, who was in Annapolis for the General Assembly's special session.

She said the transportation department is not taking on any new projects and is struggling to fund current projects because of the state's projected $1.7 billion budget deficit.

A transportation bill proposed by Gov. Martin O'Malley would generate $400 million for projects. However, $250 million of that is needed to maintain existing roads, bridges and mass transit systems, Swaim-Staley said.

The bill would raise the vehicle titling tax from 5 percent to 6 percent and shift some revenue from the corporate income and rental car taxes to the transportation trust fund.

It would also increase the gasoline tax in January from 23.5 cents to 24 cents per gallon and tie the tax to the Construction Cost Index, a measure of nonresidential construction costs.

Commissioner James F. Kercheval said at the meeting that although it might be an unpopular decision, linking the tax to construction costs will allow the state to fund important transportation projects.

"Politically, it's not easy. But I don't think the public understands how much these costs affect the price of a road project," Kercheval said.

Swaim-Staley said in the last three years steel costs have risen 60 percent, concrete prices have gone up 40 percent and asphalt costs have risen 25 percent to 30 percent.

In addition to the I-70 bridges, two major projects that were in the state's transportation budget last year remained there this year.

A planned expansion of the intersection of U.S. 40 and Edgewood Drive will start by next July and finish in the fall of 2009, Pedersen said.

The state's budget includes $3.4 million in construction costs for the project. The $12.2 million project will be split with the county and City of Hagerstown.

The state is still working to acquire rights of way on about 30 properties along the construction route, Pedersen said.

The state's transportation budget also includes $3.4 million for the planning of a proposed Interstate 81 widening.

I-81, which covers 12 miles in Maryland between West Virginia and Pennsylvania, would expand to six lanes under the project.

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