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Repair of Martinsburg overpass delayed

September 12, 2008|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. -- The repair of deteriorated concrete retaining walls and other safety concerns at the North Queen Street railroad overpass apparently has been delayed because of questions about who is responsible for its maintenance.

Whether those duties fall to the railroad or the city is uncertain.

"We really need to come to some resolution on these things," Mayor George Karos said Tuesday during a Martinsburg City Council meeting.

Large fractures were visible Wednesday in the retaining walls north and south of the railroad bridge that was built in the early 1900s to allow Queen Street traffic to pass beneath trains operated by the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad.

Chunks of concrete also appeared to be missing from retaining walls leading to the bridge, which city officials said was structurally sound. The railing along pedestrian walkways beneath the bridge, however, does not appear to prevent someone from falling into the heavily traveled route for vehicle traffic.

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The overpass area is part of the North Queen Street section where U.S. 11, W.Va. 45 and W.Va. 9 overlap.

During Tuesday's council meeting, city attorney Floyd M. "Kin" Sayre said a 1921 agreement concerning the railroad's overpass could resolve questions about liability and maintenance, if it can be found.

Sayre and Ward 4 Councilman Roger Lewis were expected to try to find the agreement at the Berkeley County Courthouse, where it might have been recorded. Before the early 1930s, roads were controlled by each county, not the state.

CSX Transportation spokesman Bob Sullivan said the railroad's focus has always been on bridge safety, yet he anticipated more conversations with the city to address the concern.

"I think we have a long history in Martinsburg, and we want to be good neighbors," Sullivan said. "We'll be in touch with the city manager and talk with them."

Lewis said Wednesday that he had taken the overpass issue on as a "pet project" for the next four years after city officials have struggled for two years without resolution.

Lewis said the safety concerns pose a "liability factor" that could ensnare the city in a lawsuit.

"It's an eyesore coming into the city as well," Lewis said.

He said that a previous city project to improve lighting beneath the bridge was complicated by antiquated light fixtures, which prompted the need to install a light pole.

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