City leaders not interested in owning Washington Street Bridge

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Railroad seeks property transfer

Cumberland Times-News, August 29, 2012

Kristin Harty Barkley

CUMBERLAND — City leaders aren’t interested in taking ownership of the deteriorating Washington Street Bridge, even though doing so could bring federal dollars to the table to help with repairs.

They want CSX to fix it — and fast.

“I think the point we need to make to CSX now is fix that dad-gum thing as quickly as you can,” Councilman Butch Hendershot said Tuesday night, after City Administrator Jeff Rhodes told council that CSX, which owns and maintains the bridge, wanted to transfer ownership in hopes of securing federal funds.

City officials closed the bridge to vehicular traffic earlier this month after an inspection determined it wasn’t structurally sound. At Tuesday’s council meeting, Rhodes showed photographs of two corroded girders to illustrate the magnitude of the problem.

“It can’t be overstated how important of a corporate neighbor CSX has been,” Hendershot said, echoing Mayor Brian Grim, who praised the company for being a “good partner with the city.”

“This, however, is a serious liability issue,” Hendershot said. “It looks like there’s been neglect on maintaining this structure ... We can’t have a neighborhood disrupted by this for an unknown amount of time.”

Rhodes brought the matter to council to get direction about how to proceed, saying that CSX representatives had “verbally requested” the ownership transfer.

“There are pluses and minuses to it, and some real reason to be concerned with it,” Rhodes said, adding that although the city could apply for federal bridge repair funds, it could take years for funding to materialize.

“What happens if this takes two, three, four years, and then the funding potentially dries up on the federal level?” Rhodes said. “... Obviously, any extensive delays will be an inconvenience to the neighborhood and to those that traverse Washington Street. It’s not an easy problem to solve.”

City staff have had “reasonable conversations” with CSX representatives and discussions are continuing, Rhodes said.

Council didn’t vote on the matter Tuesday, but Grim, along with Hendershot and Councilwoman Mary Beth Pirolozzi, made it clear that the city isn’t interested.

“(CSX has) a responsibility to the community when it comes to infrastructure like this,” Grim said. “I would hate to see the city take on another infrastructure project when we’ve already got our hands full with everything else that we have ... It looks like, at least from my observation, that we need a new bridge in Cumberland.”

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