Downtown mall manager emeritus Ed Mullaney recently asked the city council if it had any idea what year we might expect any of the three closed West Side railroad bridges to be reopened. (See: “Residents call for updates ... ,” June 5 Times-News, Page 1A.)
He said the patience of residents in the affected area is wearing thin and that communication on the subject has broken down.
That’s two understatements for the price of one.
Cumberland, Fayette and Washington streets lie adjacent to each other, and having them closed for as long as they’ve been closed is the Queen City’s version of the Berlin Wall.
There are ways to get around it, but this will take a circuitous route of the type some folks in these parts used to call “going around Fisher’s barn.”
Patience regarding the bridges has been eroding for so long that we’re not even sure when the process started. The city and CSX Transportation have began arguing for years over ownership and responsibility for the condition of the bridges.
The Washington Street bridge will have been closed for two years in August, a milestone that is sure to take place. Cumberland Street will have been closed for two years come November. Fayette Street was closed in June 2018 after a train struck it.
There also has been discussion of the CSX bridge that crosses Greene Street, but it carries trains and not motor vehicles and CSX owns it.
Tractor-trailers collide with it two or three times a year because it is too low. CSX wants to raise it, but the city opposes that because it would affect the Washington Street bridge that is only 200 feet away.
We’ve already discussed this more times than we care to count, and great progress has been made. The Cumberland Street bridge is in its final design phase, and design alternatives are being prepared for the Fayette and Washington street bridges.
It’s not a matter of inaction on anyone’s part, because something is being done.
What Mullaney, the other people who are separated by the Railroad Wall and the Times-News would like to know is simply What’s Going On?
We grew accustomed to receiving regular updates while Mayor Brian Grim, councilman David Caporale and other city officials were having monthly meetings with representatives of CSX.
Those updates stopped after Grim lost his bid for re-election and Caporale was elected to the Allegany County Board of Commissioners in November.
The last report of significant content that we published was Nov. 8, 2018, when it was announced that CSX would relinquish any rights it may have to the Cumberland Street bridge and transfer ownership to the city. That would allow the city to seek federal funding for a new bridge.
On Feb. 6, we reported that council members Rock Cioni and Laurie Marchini had been designated to join the team of city officials in negotiating with CSX.
Since then, we’ve heard little or nothing until Mullaney and Washington Street resident Terry Murphy asked where everything stood.
City Attorney Michael Cohen said the bridge studies should be done any day, engineering reports are ready, nondisclosure agreements that involve information CSX considers proprietary are in the works, everything will be reviewed, and bridge designs can then be selected.
Cumberland Street is eligible for federal funding, CSX will pay to rebuild Fayette Street, and Washington Street will involve a mix of funding, with the city taking the lead.
Mayor Ray Morriss agreed with Mullaney that there should be better communication and promised it will be forthcoming. He said it’s a matter of waiting on engineering reports and, “We will build those bridges. We’re as frustrated as you are.”
We’ve grown too familiar with scenarios in which irate citizens literally shout their demands at elected officials who respond in similar manner.
What happened the other night in the City Council chambers was a refreshing example of how matters can and should be handled by reasonable people on both sides of the matter.
We hope to see more of this. Rational discussion of issues that leads to mutual understanding accomplishes far more than the exchange of angry broadsides, which usually gets nothing done and may even make things worse.
It’s also a reminder to the citizens that ours is a republic in which elected officials are answerable to the people. It falls to the people to do their part by holding the elected officials accountable.
Doing so respectfully and with determination may actually get a respectful and useful response.