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Amendment to roads bill would require impact study before Funkstown bridge closes

April 02, 2008|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

ANNAPOLIS -- A newly proposed amendment to a Washington County roads bill would postpone repairs to a one-lane bridge in Funkstown until an impact study is completed.

"The amendment says they can't close the bridge until they do an economic assessment," said Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington.

The requirement would be attached to a pending bill on changes in how the county surveys roads, records deeds and maintains highways, among other things.

Del. LeRoy E. Myers Jr., R-Washington/Allegany, the chairman of the county's delegation, said the amendment was a response to people concerned about the closure.

The House Environmental Matters Committee heard the bill last week. To pass, it must be approved by the committee, then the House and the Senate, in the session's waning days, before going to the governor.

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The county is scheduled to take about five months to repair the 175-year-old East Oak Ridge Drive bridge, starting this spring.

Washington County Commissioners President John F. Barr, a Republican, said he supports the study, but other commissioners were concerned a new requirement could hurt the project.

Commissioner Kristin B. Aleshire, a Democrat, said the delay could cost the county $1 million in federal funding and push back the repair work "at least a year."

The bridge repair is expected to cost $1.1 million to $1.5 million, he said.

"I guess it just adds to the cost," said Commissioner William J. Wivell, a Republican, also pointing to the potential loss of federal money.

Fearing a slower stream of customers, local business owners have protested the county's plans to close the bridge that spans Antietam Creek.

A vocal opponent has been Steve Demory of Demory's Christmas Memories.

He said Tuesday no one disputes that the bridge needs repairs. But he thinks the county should consider building a new bridge beside the current one or putting up a temporary steel bridge for an alternative route. Both would let area traffic continue while the one-lane bridge is repaired.

Demory said his sales dropped 50 percent and other shops were similarly affected when the bridge was shut down for six weeks in 2006.

The county commissioners previously agreed to compress the construction schedule from six months to five months.

"I could understand the economic hardships," Wivell said, "but we've closed bridges before and folks have survived."

Through the closure study, the county could more closely consider a temporary bridge or moving up the timetable for a Southern Bypass, which has long been discussed, Shank said.

"It's a good idea," Barr said. "Business owners have asked the delegation and requested additional information to get the commissioners to rethink this closure."

Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington, said he supports the study.

But Aleshire said the unfolding changes would set a bad precedent, potentially allowing inconvenienced residents and businesses to amend hundreds of millions of public works projects throughout the county.

Before delegation members drafted the amendment, they should have consulted with the county's elected officials, Aleshire said.

Staff writer Joshua Bowman contributed to this story.

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