Bridge delay costs Dorchester $500,000

Dorchester Banner/Dave Ryan
Bestpitch Ferry Bridge is seen above. Both ends are blocked because of the span’s deteriorating condition.

CAMBRIDGE — Dorchester County will have to repay $500,000 to the Maryland Department of Transportation’s State Highway Administration after a delay of years in repairing Bestpitch Ferry Bridge.

Director of the Department of Public Works Dave Edwards said during the County Council’s Jan. 5 meeting that he had learned the state expects the money for project engineering services performed in planning the job, which was not completed. “The council has the option to pay it in full, or to set up a payment plan, not to exceed 24 months,” Mr. Edwards said. “Payment must be made whether council chooses to repair the bridge or not.”
The timber beam span carries traffic over the Transquaking River in central Dorchester County. It is surrounded by a public boat ramp, two homes and marshland.
Built in 1946, it is 192 feet long and has one lane. Its deck is composed of timber planks.

Some deck planks were replaced and guardrails added in 1978. In a 1997 inspection report, the structure was deemed in fair condition.
“The timber decking, however, was in serious condition with rotted wood,” a 2003 report from the Maryland Historical Trust said. “In addition, the structure had leaning bridge rails, some cracking of timber beams and the crossing bracing was in poor condition.”
The bridge’s deterioration led to calls for its repair. The expensive planning process did not lead to work being done, however.

At the Jan. 5 meeting of the County Council, Mr. Edwards asked council members how they preferred to pay the sum, and if they wanted to proceed with repairs or leave the bridge closed. “If they choose to repair the bridge, it will take roughly $500,000 for bridge repairs, and roughly $100,000 for road repairs,” he said. “This would provide the county with roughly 7-10 years of useful life to the bridge.”
Council Member Libby Nagel (District 5) made a motion to create a payment plan, and to move forward with repairs to the bridge and road. Council President Jay Newcomb (District 1) seconded the motion, and opened the floor to discussion.
Council Member Lenny Pfeffer said, “Mr. Edwards, can you please explain to me why the county is being required to pay back almost half a million dollars?”
Council Member Jay Newcomb answered, saying, “That’s probably so they been out for design and all the new bridge and all wasn’t all that before four years ago that was a obligation because they thought they was going to do the bridge, correct, Mr. Edwards?”

Mr. Edwards confirmed that was the case.
“So you’re saying that all along, it was just a loan,” Mr. Pfeffer said, “and we knew all along that we would be owing the state back this money?”
“I’m not sure, Councilman Pfeffer, what the county knew all along at that point. I kind of got into it when I come aboard,” Mr. Edwards said, referring to his joining the county staff about a year ago. It was after that, he said, that he learned the county’s debt was past due.

“It is my understanding that several directors back, they used professional engineering services provided by MDOT [Maryland Department of Transportation] to design the bridge,” Mr. Edwards said. Directives specified that the bridge had to be built within a limited time.
“It was postponed,” Mr. Edwards said. “If the bridge had been built within the allocated time, payment would never have had to been paid back. It was not built.”
“It was because of our lack of response that we now owe half a million dollars to the state,” Mr. Pfeffer said.

“That’s my understanding,” Mr. Edwards said.
Mr. Edwards said he agreed minimal repairs would be suitable for 7-10 years of use. He said the Department of Natural Resources has conducted studies that forecast the area around Bestpitch Ferry being underwater within the next 10-15 years.
When in use, the bridge serves 50-70 cars a day, depending on the time of year, Mr. Edwards said.
The motion to repay the loan and complete repairs passed, 4-1, with Mr. Newcomb, Ms. Nagel, Council Members William Nichols (District 2) and Ricky Travers (District 3) in favor. Mr. Pfeffer was opposed.

After the vote, Mr. Travers, who was on the council at the time of the original planning, said, “Let me give you just a little bit of an understanding. They came back with a designed bridge that would look like the Hoopersville bridge. We looked at it, and it was totally out of context for the area, it was totally out of the realm that we could fund it, and that’s kind of why it was put on hold at that point.”
Mr. Newcomb said the bridge would have been built near the current site, and property right of ways would have been required. “It’s a lot more to it than just sticking a little wooden bridge back in place,” he said.
“It would have had to involve imminent domain of property, and the structure that was recommended was large in size, and extended through the marsh a right good bit. There was some concern about eyesores and aesthetics in the area as well,” Mr. Edwards said.

The directives also called for keeping and maintaining the original bridge, because it is a historical site.

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