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Amended bill would keep Funkstown bridge open, pending study

April 04, 2008|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

ANNAPOLIS -- A Washington County delegation movement to keep a Funkstown bridge open gained traction Thursday, when a House committee approved a county roads bill.

The bill contains a delegation amendment that forces the county to perform an economic study before it can close the East Oak Ridge Drive bridge for repairs.

The amendment, which passed along with the bill, has triggered a debate about state representatives intervening on a local issue.

Members of the delegation are divided, as are the Washington County Commissioners.

Commissioners President John F. Barr has said he agrees with Del. LeRoy E. Myers Jr., the delegation chairman, and Del. Christopher B. Shank, who are pushing the amendment.

Other commissioners have objected, saying the delegation-driven delay would endanger $1 million in federal funding for the bridge work.

The amendment directs the county to study traffic patterns and possible alternatives to closing the bridge. It requires at least one public hearing on the bridge closure.

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Within 14 days of finishing the study, the commissioners have to send their findings to the Washington County delegation.

The House Environmental Affairs Committee voted unanimously Thursday in favor of the bill and the amendment. The bill itself proposes various general changes in how county roads are surveyed, deeds are recorded and highways are maintained in Washington County.

Del. Anne Healey, D-Prince George's, a committee member, asked if the amendment would set a precedent as a state-ordered economic study on a local bridge closure.

Del. Maggie McIntosh, D-Baltimore City, the committee's chairwoman, said she didn't know.

She added that Washington County delegation members told her the bridge closure would have harmful effects.

"If they take this bridge out, it will actually create a dead end ...," she told the committee. "It will literally put businesses out of business."

McIntosh said the amendment had Republican and Democratic backing, referring to Myers' letter saying it had "unanimous Washington County Delegation support."

Actually, the delegation's lone Democrat, Del. John P. Donoghue, said later he didn't know about the letter and didn't give his support.

"To me, this is interference on our part," he said. "The county commissioners got elected to do a job."

Myers and Shank said this week the amendment was meant to help business people fighting the bridge closure.

One vocal opponent is Steve Demory of Demory's Christmas Memories, who estimated his shop's sales dropped 50 percent when the bridge was closed for six weeks in 2006.

Other business owners also have complained the closure would drive away traffic and customers.

Starting this spring, the county hoped to close the 175-year-old bridge for about five months to make needed repairs. The work has been estimated to cost $1.1 million to $1.5 million.

Aside from the amendment, the roads bill, in its current form, was not controversial.

A section prohibiting certain large vehicles from being parked in residential neighborhoods previously was stricken. Delegation members were concerned the ban was too broad and would affect too many vehicles.

With the Environmental Matters Committee's approval, the bill and the amendment head to the House floor.

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