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More than 40 show for meeting on Funkstown bridge project

Concerns aired over lengthy detours, school bus routes and heavy truck traffic

Concerns aired over lengthy detours, school bus routes and heavy truck traffic

May 15, 2008|By JOSHUA BOWMAN

HAGERSTOWN -- More than 40 people attended a public hearing Wednesday night on the planned closure of a one-way bridge on East Oak Ridge Drive.

The planned five-month closure, which county officials say is needed to repair the historic stone-arch bridge in Funkstown, has riled area residents and shop owners who have said it will cause lengthy detours and hurt merchants who depend on traffic over the bridge for their business.

In addition, concerns about how school bus routes will change during the closure and the volume of heavy trucks that will cross the bridge after it reopens also were discussed at Wednesday's hearing at E. Russell Hicks Middle School.

"You wouldn't believe what goes across that bridge. We need to deal with the traffic, long term, for safety," said Mike Henry, who lives near the bridge on East Oak Ridge Drive.

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When the bridge repairs are finished, it will be able to hold trucks larger than 15 tons, structural engineer Scott Hobbs said at the hearing.

Several residents predicted nightmare scenarios of semi-trucks barreling down the hill over the bridge into Funkstown after the bridge is reopened.

"What's going to happen when FedEx and Roadway and Clean Rock are allowed to cross that bridge?" Caterina Pangilinan asked.

Some speakers asked the county to post weight limits lower than what the bridge will be able to handle.

Public Works Director Joseph Kroboth said the county could do that if it determines the area contains another "choke point" that would clog traffic.

"Trust me, we will consider that," said Robert J. Slocum, acting deputy director of public works.

Wednesday's meeting was the first public hearing on the planned bridge closure, though several residents spoke out about the project at a similar meeting in March.

The repairs originally were scheduled to start in June, Kroboth said. The county is ready to advertise bids for the project, but will wait until the Washington County Commissioners reconsider plans for project.

Some Funkstown-area residents and business owners have asked the county to install a temporary bridge during the repairs.

While there are federal funds available to build a temporary bridge, Kroboth said doing so would push the project into next year.

The commissioners voted 4-1 in February to compress the construction schedule from six months to five months instead of building a temporary bridge.

Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, who attended the hearing, said concerns about the bridge closure could have been avoided if the county had earlier started building a Funkstown bypass road.

"In many ways, this is a tale of what could have been," Shank said.

The county commissioners agreed last month to move funding for design and right-of-way purchase for the bypass up several years into this coming fiscal year's capital budget.

Construction could begin in fiscal 2010.

Commissioner James F. Kercheval called the hearing "productive." He said he will check into suggestions to create a temporary fire and rescue substation near South Pointe during the repairs, and will ask the Washington County Board of Education to let area parents know how bus routes will change.

Kercheval also said posting weight limits on the bridge after it is reopens is a good idea.

He said he hopes the commissioners will talk about the project during next Tuesday's meeting.

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