Bridges take center stage at meeting with MDOT officials

Allegany County officials and Western Maryland representatives meet with MDOT officials in annual transportation meeting. 

CUMBERLAND — Officials from the Maryland Department of Transportation and the Secretary’s office descended on Cumberland Thursday to meet with members of the Allegany Commissioners office and local dignitaries as part of their annual statewide transportation investment tour.

From the Secretary’s office, R. Earl Lewis Jr, the deputy transportation secretary, attended the meeting. Also in attendance were Christine Nizer, administrator of MDOT MVA; Travis Johnson, local transit support director with MDOT MTA; Jason Ridgway, deputy administrator of MDOT SHA; and Paul Shank, planning and engineering chief with MDOT MAA.

The three bridges on the west side of Cumberland were a point of emphasis for local officials and workers present at the meeting, as the process of getting federal funding for the projects has been arduous. 

“The federal bridge program review process in our opinion is broken,” said Paul Kahl, Allegany County director of public works. “It’s mind-boggling the time it takes to get an engineering award to get the design and go through the whole process — it takes two years. We could do things if we didn’t have the state and federal funding money into it. We could get to it a lot quicker and get things done.

“We’re hoping that maybe there’s somehow to shorten that process. I think Cumberland is really facing an issue. Washington County, I know they’ve established the same frustration. We’re all facing the same thing. Bridge safety obviously is the number one, but also it’s an economic issue.”

“We’re faced with a situation that we’re trying to determine which of our bridges are best suited for the federal bridge program. I need to program them out three to four years in advance for when construction will actually occur,” said Daniel DeWitt, Allegany County engineer. “We’re trying to get permission for those to be eligible for the funding. If I begin new projects that are really ready for that funding, by the time we’re able to be under construction we may be in a much worse situation.”

Lewis said that federally there had been talks of streamlining processes, but that it wasn’t yet federal law and so the state has to follow the same legal processes it always has.

Ridgway said he would like to work personally with the county to try to find a way to quicken the process.

“Bridges nationally are a big concern, not only for locals and states. There’s a big focus on it (because) many bridges were built at the same time and they’re all — there’s this impending kind of wave out there that I think everybody acknowledges,” said Ridgway.

The city of Cumberland’s engineer, Bobby Smith, more clearly laid out the issues affecting the city regarding the bridges. The city submitted a package for notice to proceed on one of the bridge projects on Nov. 18 and has yet to receive notice to proceed. The Fayette Street bridge will be fully funded by CSX.

“The next bridge we have I want to discuss is Cumberland Street. I’m not sure how much you all know about Cumberland — we have three bridges on the west side that are down. They’re closed because CSX and the city will be moving forward with ownership. One of the bridges we’ve assumed ownership of is in the federal bridge program,” said Smith. “We really need to move forward. We can’t replace the other bridges within our negotiations with CSX until that bridge is replaced.”

Smith said the lack of working bridges hurts EMS response times.

“The bridges are very important to us,” said Del. Mike McKay.

“The two overarching concerns are what are we going to do about (Route) 219/220? Is it feasible? If it’s feasible, how, when, why?” said De. Jason Buckel. “I think it is incumbent upon us to either come up with a plan and say this is the long term plan and to start working towards it materially or to say we’re not going to be able to do it. The second overarching transportation, I’m not sure where all you guys live, but I’m betting you $1,000,000 if you lived in (the) West Side Cumberland community and dealt with what they deal with, the bridges would be fixed. It’s been several years. It’s absurd.”

Regarding the Route 219/220 north and south project, transportation officials at the meeting said they expect West Virginia to be finished with their study in March 2020.

The following portion is bits of information taken from an MDOT press release about the meeting.

The meeting was part of MDOT’s annual tour of 23 Maryland counties and Baltimore City to update local officials and the public on the Hogan administration’s $15.3 billion investment over the next six years in transit, highways, Motor Vehicle Administration facilities, the Helen Delich Bentley Port of Baltimore, and Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport (BWI Marshall). Officials also discussed the Maryland Transportation Authority’s $3.1 billion in additional investments in Maryland’s toll roads and bridges.

In 2015, the Hogan Administration outlined a program of historic investment in infrastructure. Over the last four years, MDOT has completed 1,069 projects totaling nearly $5.9 billion.

Deputy Secretary Lewis outlined key updates on transportation investments in Allegany County and across Maryland. Statewide, there are 718 airport, highway, transit, port, bicycle, and MDOT Motor Vehicle Administration (MDOT MVA) construction projects underway, with a value of $7.2 billion.

In addition to these projects, the deputy secretary announced an increase in funding through Highway User Revenues, made possible by bipartisan legislation signed by Governor Larry Hogan last year. Allegany County will receive more than $2,885,233 in Highway User Revenues this year, an increase of $414,559 over last year’s allocation. Additionally, the county will receive $15,500 in highway safety grants, including funds for the county sheriff’s office and the Cumberland and Frostburg police departments.

Transportation officials provided updates on major road projects in Allegany County, including the recently completed $7.2 million project to rehabilitate the bridge on I-68 over Route 639 in Cumberland.

MDOT SHA is working on a $9.2 million project to replace a 96-year-old bridge on Route 36 over Jennings Run in Mount Savage. This project will be completed in spring 2020.

The agency is also working on a $5 million rockslide prevention project on Route 135 in Westernport that will begin next summer. Currently in design, the project will help mitigate debris slides.

In spring 2020, crews will begin work on a $14 million bridge rehabilitation project on Route 51 over CSX and Canal Parkway. And MDOT SHA is also working with the county on a $2 million project to replace the MD 831C bridge over Jennings Run in Corriganville.

MDOT is partnering with state, federal and local agencies on bicycle and pedestrian projects, including $40,680 to the Allegany County Sheriff’s Department for maintenance of the Great Allegany Passage, and $39,180 to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources for trail maintenance at Rocky Gap State Park.

MDOT MTA makes a significant investment in transit in Allegany County, including $1.4 million in operating and capital grants to support local transit systems, and $140,000 in fiscal years 2020 and 2021 for nonprofits that serve transportation needs of seniors and people with disabilities.

The county was also awarded $270,000 in fiscal years 2020 to 2022 through Maryland-Job Access and Reverse Commute (MD-JARC) to help expand transit service hours to employment areas in the Cumberland area, and $210,000 in a Statewide Transit Innovation Grant for a central mobility hub at Frostburg State University and a study related to creating a mobility hub in Cumberland.

Follow staff writer Brandon Glass on Twitter @Bglass13.

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