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Washington County Commissioners to hold public meeting on Funkstown bridge closure project

April 08, 2008|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

ANNAPOLIS -- The Washington County Commissioners have agreed to hold a public meeting on closing the East Oak Ridge Drive bridge, but some aren't predicting any changes.

The offer comes amid pressure from state lawmakers, who changed a county roads bill so it would delay the bridge project until an economic study was done.

Del. LeRoy E. Myers Jr., the delegation chairman, said Monday he spoke with a majority of the commissioners Saturday, working out an acceptable compromise on the bridge.

"We had no other way to get the attention of the commissioners," Myers, R-Washington/Allegany, said of the amendment.

With an agreement in hand, though, lawmakers halted the amended roads bill; it was sent back to committee Monday, effectively killing it. "It is done," said Del. Maggie McIntosh, D-Baltimore City, the committee chairwoman.

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It was unclear if the new, not-yet-scheduled meeting will delay the looming bridge project. The commissioners might discuss it more Tuesday.

County officials previously agreed to speed up the bridge project, from six months to five months, to lessen the inconvenience.

But some merchants say they still will be hurt as traffic and customers are redirected.

Sheree Green, owner of Gracie's Place in Funkstown, said a dropoff in business could jeopardize jobs at her restaurant.

She also wondered how well emergency vehicles will get around while the bridge is shut down.

Commissioner Kristin B. Aleshire said Myers asked if he minded having a public meeting about the bridge. He said he didn't mind.

But it's pointless, since the issue has been thoroughly covered, he added. "We could have a thousand more meetings on the subject," Aleshire said. "It's not going to change the outcome of the direction we gave staff."

Commissioner James F. Kercheval said a rehash of facts would accomplish little.

Some commissioners have expressed concern that delaying the project would endanger funding.

Kercheval said $1 million in federal funding is earmarked for the bridge work. If the bridge repair is postponed, it would push back next year's project, and so on, he said.

But Maryland State Highway Administration spokesman David Buck explained it differently Monday.

He said Washington County is scheduled to get about $1 million a year for six years, under a federal funding bill. If Washington County does not spend its roughly $1 million one year, the money rolls over to the next year, Buck said.

All of the $6 million could be used in the sixth year, he said.

Kercheval said the project probably will go out to bid this month.

If work on the 175-year-old bridge is delayed and the bridge fails, it will be closed anyway, he said.

Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, said a temporary bridge, which could be the solution, has been estimated to cost $230,000.

However, Buck said that estimate, for a 143-foot bridge, doesn't factor in easements, utilities and other expenses.

County officials have said a temporary bridge could cost about $1 million.

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