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Funkstown business owners say bridge closure might hurt bottom line

February 19, 2008|By JOSHUA BOWMAN

WASHINGTON COUNTY - Some business owners along East Oak Ridge Drive are worried that an upcoming bridge closure could hurt their businesses and, in some cases, force them to close their shops.

Washington County officials are planning to close the stone-arch bridge on East Oak Ridge Drive in Funkstown for five months starting this spring while they repair the structure.

The one-lane bridge is one of several historic stone bridges in the county that must be rehabilitated periodically, according to Washington County Public Works Director Joseph Kroboth III.

But shop owners like Teresa Myers of Shear Expressions hair salon say the closure will be devastating for local businesses.

"Fifty percent of my clients come over that bridge every day," said Myers, whose shop is just up the hill from the bridge.

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Steve Demory of Demory's Christmas Memories in South Pointe Shopping Center said his business plummeted when the bridge was closed for drainage work for six weeks in May 2006.

"We depend on the traffic coming through there. It slowed to half of what it was," he said.

The Washington County Commissioners earlier this month considered alternative plans, such as setting up a temporary bridge that would minimize the effect of the closure on local businesses.

Kroboth said a temporary bridge would cost about $757,000 in addition to the repair project, which will cost about $1.1 million. Even with a temporary bridge, 80 percent of the project will be paid for with federal funds.

But building a temporary bridge would delay funding of other county projects, Terrence P. McGee said last month during a county commissioners meeting.

McGee was Washington County's chief engineer at the time but has since resigned.

In addition, county officials said they were worried about the precedent building a temporary bridge would set.

"We would have to do this every time we repaired a bridge from now on," County Commissioner William J. Wivell said.

Wivell noted that the county has not set up temporary bridges for other bridge repair projects.

Instead, the commissioners voted 4-1 to compress the construction schedule from six months to five months.

Commissioners President John F. Barr voted against the proposal, saying it did not do enough to help the businesses.

Business owners agreed.

"I'll be out of business in five months," said David Peacher II, who owns Quiznos Sub in South Pointe Shopping Center.

Peacher said Wivell's comparison between the closure of the East Oak Ridge Drive bridge and other bridge closures is "ridiculous."

"Those bridges are out in the middle of nowhere," Peacher said.

Demory said the county should consider building a new, two-lane bridge as a permanent replacement. He said the problem will persist unless the stone bridge is retired.

"The county wants business to come here, and the traffic is not going to decrease," Demory said.

About 9,000 cars travel the bridge every day, according to McGee.

Demory has asked the county commissioners to hold a public hearing on the closure.

Commissioner James F. Kercheval, who owned Kerch's Barbeque on Pennsylvania Avenue, said he understands the business owners' concerns, but said building a new bridge right now would not be a responsible use of taxpayers' money.

"I know this is difficult. But this is a part of what we as a county do all the time. This bridge is one of the gems of the county as far as assets, but one of the downsides is you have to repair it occasionally," Kercheval said.

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