Bestpitch Ferry Bridge needs work

CAMBRIDGE — Members of the Dorchester County Council voted 5-0 July 16 to explore ways to repair the Bestpitch Ferry Bridge. Located on Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, the wooden span was built in 1946 and is now in poor condition.

County Manager Keith Adkins said, “On June 28, I received an email from Rosemary Hodges from the SHA [State Highway Administration]. She was inquiring about activity on the Bestpitch Ferry Bridge.”

Mr. Adkins told the council members that in 2007, federal funds were made available to study the bridge.
“Some plans were 90 percent completed,” Mr. Adkins said. “We spent approximately $555,000.”

“This actually expired in 10 years, so it has been expired for over a year,” he said. Ms. Hodges “has not received any invoices.”

“Now, there is no work that has been done,” Mr. Adkins said. “The county needs to make a decision.”

Not only is the bridge in poor condition, but there are road elevation issues on both sides of the 192-foot span.

“Money was set aside for bridge replacement,” Mr. Adkins said. Then the SHA became involved, and decided that they could not justify spending it for a bridge that carries only about 30 cars a day, and is in an area “that could potentially be under water in a short time.”

Building another bridge next to the existing one was discussed, according to notes Mr. Adkins reviewed, but environmental issues arose.

Council Member Ricky Travers (District 3) said, “The first plan they came back with, it was outrageous. It was a huge bridge, it spent a lot of money, when all we wanted to do was fix the wooden bridge that was there.”

“That’s why we shelved it, the previous council did, because it was ridiculous to spend that kind of money on their plan,” Mr. Travers said. “The council needs to make a decision on whether we want to move forward and repair the wooden bridge that’s there, or just walk away from it.”

“I think you need to take into consideration that there are still people who live down there, and there are a lot of people who ride that country road, just touring the county,” Council Member Libby Nagel (District 5) said. “I just think we need to try to figure out some kind of way to maintain the bridge.”

Mr. Travers said, “I agree with that.”

“So they’re saying we’ve expended almost a half million dollars in studies?” Council Member Lenny Pfeffer (District 4) asked.

“Yes, and that was stopped, 90 percent completed,” Mr. Adkins said. In the years since, the SHA has not disbursed any funds to the county for a new or repaired bridge.

Members voted 5-0 to explore ways to repair the bridge, before the offer of federal funds is withdrawn.

Bestpitch Ferry Bridge is located at the site of a former ferry over the Transquaking River. It is a timber stringer trestle bridge, owned by the county.

Though it is unique and has served Dorchester for years, it is not eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. Data from the Federal Highway Administration’s National Bridge Inventory from November 2017 says its condition is poor.

A structural appraisal says it “meets minimum tolerable limits to be left in place as is,” with a sufficiency rating of 27.4 out of 100. The inventory recommends replacement “because of substandard load-carrying capacity or substantial bridge-roadway geometry,” at an estimated cost of $474,000.

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