Without documentation, ownership of Washington Street Bridge uncertain

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Railroad wants to see proof from city

Cumberland Times-News, September 11, 2012

Matthew Bieniek

CUMBERLAND — If CSX owns the dilapidated and now closed Washington Street Bridge, no one can prove it, not yet anyway, said John DiFonzo, director of engineering for the City of?Cumberland. Neither city officials nor CSX can find documentation showing who owns the span.

“The matter of ownership and responsibility is not crystal clear,” DiFonzo said. CSX needs proof that it owns the bridge before undertaking responsibility for major repairs, he said. City staff had long operated under the assumption CSX owned the bridge, DiFonzo said.

“I feel pretty confident we’re going to find documentation,” DiFonzo said.

And another apparently CSX-owned bridge is also heading down the road to trouble, DiFonzo said. A recent inspection shows problems developing at the Cumberland Street bridge. CSX is also believed to own the Fayette Street bridge. In addition, the city-owned Baltimore Street bridge is in need of repairs or replacement in the near future, DiFonzo said.

DiFonzo gave the mayor and city council an update on the bridge and repair options at the regular City Council meeting Tuesday night at City Hall. What is clear is that the bridge is in awful shape and hasn’t been maintained, DiFonzo said.

“The bridge is in deplorable shape ... I think it’s disgusting a bridge could get into that condition,” DiFonzo said. Past inspections, which occur every two years, have pointed out the corrosion of the steel beams, two of which have totally failed. CSX was notified of the inspections, DiFonzo said. DiFonzo said CSX?is always responsive on safety issues, but not so much on corrosion and maintenence issues.

“We went under the bridge ... the steel, there’s nothing to it, it’s bent,” DiFonzo said. While CSX apparently won’t acknowledge ownership, they are planning a minimal repair to the bridge, DiFonzo said. Materials for the repair are ordered and work would start later this month, DiFonzo said.

The CSX plan would shore up the West side of the bridge with wood. It would only be a temporary fix and limit traffic on the bridge to four tons and one-lane traffic. That would limit the bridge to cars, pickup trucks and SUVs, DiFonzo said.

Adequate repairs to the bridge would cost about a million dollars, DiFonzo said. Replacement of the bridge would cost about $2.5 million.

“CSX is not currently planning to do anything (other than a temporary fix),” DiFonzo said.

Cumberland’s mayor and council members didn’t have much love to show for CSX after they heard DiFonzo’s presentation Tuesday.

“If it’s owned by CSX, I want them to repair it, now ... not slap it together with tinker toys,” said Councilman Butch Hendershot.

“CSX is abdicating their responsibility to a community like ours,” said Mayor Brian Grim. “It’s not one bridge, but potentially another bridge,” Grim said. The city doesn’t have the resources to take on the costs of ownership and maintenence of those bridges, the mayor said.

City officials recently rejected a request by CSX for the city to take over ownership of the bridge. CSX had hoped city ownership would help obtain federal funding for the repairs. CSX did the repairs on the Fayette Street bridge, which was closed for a while in 2004-’05, DiFonzo said.

“Fayette Street supports our way of thinking,” Councilwoman Mary Beth Pirolozzi said.

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