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Funkstown bridge repair must not be dragged out

July 03, 2008

The Washington County government is moving ahead with plans to close a historic one-lane bridge in Funkstown for five months while repairs are made.

The decision comes despite protests by merchants who say the closure will hurt their businesses and who have argued for erection of a temporary bridge.

That's not practical. Despite a State Highway Administration letter that says money for such a bridge is available, seeking bids and securing rights-of-way would push the start of the project into next year.

Every citizen ought to pay attention to the progress of this project. The contractor will get an incentive payment to finish the job in five months, but as many are aware, some local projects have taken longer - and cost much more - than originally planned.

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For example, in 2003, the Broadfording Road Bridge was closed for repairs. It was to be finished later that year, but the county and the original contractor couldn't agree on the cost of additional work needed because of weather-related damage to the bridge.

In March 2004, the county cancelled that contract and hired another contractor to repair the bridge for $1.4 million.

That was $700,000 more than the county originally budgeted. The bridge re-opened in September 2005.

More recently, the renovation of the Washington County Courthouse, which began in 2004, still isn't complete.

That's due in part to the need to remove asbestos from the building's upper floors and the additions of a camera system, an elevator and a "sally port, a secure area for prisoner drop-offs.

In April, Gary Rohrer, the county's director of special projects, said "this thing has become a bottomless pit."

Originally estimated to cost $4.19 million, the final cost - providing there are no more surprises - is estimated at $4.84 million. That's 15 percent more than original estimates. It's scheduled to be done in September.

Given this history, the Funkstown bridge repair project needs to be watched closely. And if there's a way to complete it before the start of the Christmas season, so much the better.

For the long term, the county government needs to find funding for South Boulevard, a four-lane road that would take traffic from Edgewood Drive to Oak Ridge Drive, crossing the Antietam Creek on the south side of Hagerstown.

This one has been on the drawing board since 1977, but the total project cost is an estimated $20 million. The lobbyists hired by local governments need to start earning their pay by securing some federal transportation funding.

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