Cumberland Times-News

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May 7, 2013

City underpass is ‘despicable’

CUMBERLAND — CUMBERLAND — After attempting to use the pedestrian underpass under the train tracks at Queen City Drive, an area resident described the experience as “despicable” and “a common nuisance.”

John Wiland said he had parked near McDonald’s and was waiting for a train when he decided to use the underpass to get to the Social Security office on Glenn Street.

“There was standing water in the middle. It’s a mess,” said Wiland, who lives in Midlothian.

The condition of the underpass and its ease of availability to those who may have mischievous or criminal intent has been a thorn in the city’s side for many years.

“We have done everything from minor to major work. We’ve had cameras installed. Every time, it evolves back into the condition it is now,” said Mayor Brian Grim.

Wiland said he decided to not use the underpass and returned above ground to wait on the train to finish.

“We are trying to determine liability and ownership. Once we do we can take the steps necessary,” said Grim.

Grim makes no secret of his desire to close the underpass.

“We are looking into how we can close it. If it is possible to close down and not have that contaminated area it’s best. It’s disgusting,” said Grim.

A look into the underpass around 5:45 p.m. found trash, bottles, graffiti, standing pools of water and several individuals standing in a group.

Jeff Rhodes, the city administrator, said the ownership of the various sections remains unclear.

“No one knows what portion is under whose responsibility. Part of it goes under CSX railroad tracks,” said Rhodes.

Mike Cohen, the city attorney, said the records are old and the ownership agreement was not clearly recorded.

“It (the ownership agreement) wasn’t recorded in the land records if there was one,” said Cohen.

“If it were today, you wouldn’t have an underpass, it would be an overpass, because they (underpasses) are a nightmare,” said Rhodes.

Most rail crossings in cities today are done with a walking bridge built over the obstruction.

“If they are not going to maintain the tunnel, they need to build a walking bridge,” said Wiland.

Grim said both entrances are on the city’s property and it may be able to close the entrances.

“We may remove the structures and block it and put a decking over it,” said Rhodes.

Grim said it would be more or less a sidewalk.

“It would be one less place for bad things to happen,” said Cohen.

“Police monitor the cameras but they can’t be sitting there watching it 24-7,” said Grim.

Rhodes said officials had trouble cleaning the underpass with any substance that creates an odor or fumes because it’s an enclosed space and lacks ventilation.

In other city news, during the regular meeting of the mayor and city council on Tuesday, the push to remove blighted properties continued with several being considered for demolition. The properties to be acquired for removal are 627 Maryland Ave., 319-321 Columbia St. and 534-536 Columbia Ave.

The city also agreed to a first reading, with three needed for final approval, to transfer $1.5 million in CDA bond money earmarked for wastewater treatment improvements to be used by the street improvements fund.

The city also voted to accept a proposal from C.I. Thornburg Inc. to supply $36,807.60 worth of materials for the water main replacement project on Kentucky Avenue.

Greg Larry can be contacted at glarry@times-news.com.

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