Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Baltimore, CSXT finalize agreement on bridges

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Baltimore, CSXT finalize agreement on bridges | Railway Track & Structures

The Dixon administration is expected to bring two contracts before the Board of Estimates Nov. 18 cementing its two-year-old accord with CSX Transportation under which the railroad will pay roughly three-quarters of the cost of replacing two of the city's most deteriorated bridges, the Baltimore Sun reports.

After years of wrangling, Baltimore and CSXT reached agreement in principle on the formula for paying for the replacement of the Fort Avenue and Sinclair Lane bridges in Oct. 2007. But it has taken two years to work out details. The delay, according to city deputy transportation director Jamie Kendrick, was the result of "a thousand details and lots of lawyers, but other than that it was easy."

Under the contracts, which CSXT has already signed, the railroad will pay 75 percent of the construction costs and 100 percent of the engineering costs on the Fort Avenue bridge. The city will contribute the other quarter of the building costs.

That bridge was the subject of public protests by a Locust Point woman named Karen Johns, who became well-known in the city as ‘The Bridge Lady." Johns badgered elected officials to put pressure on CSXT to replace the visibly crumbling bridge, which was built in 1920 and scored 36 points out of 100 - a failing grade -- on a recent inspection.

The same formula will apply to the construction costs at Sinclair Lane, except that the first $2.3 million will be covered by a congressional earmark secured by Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-7th.

The engineering on the Sinclair Lane bridge has already been completed, and construction is expected to begin in May or June, Kendrick said. The Nineteenth Century bridge, whose exact date of construction is unknown, will take 15-18 months to replace. It scored 33 points out 100 on its most recent inspection in 2007.

The Fort Avenue bridge project, which has yet to go through engineering, is expected to reach its construction phase in late 2010 or early 2011. Kendrick said the work on the bridge, on the route to Fort McHenry, will be reopened in time for the bicentennial of the War of 1812 in May 2012. Until then, visitors to the fort will have to take a detour.

Kendrick said the city and CSXT are currently in negotiations over the railroad's bridge over the tracks at Sisson Street near Charles Village and one of its crossings of Hanover Street in South Baltimore. The city and railroad are also discussing a series of stone arches on the crosstown Belt Line between Charles Village and Harford Road.

The agreements and the talks represent a sea change in the once-prickly relationship of the city and CSXT, which publicly feuded in the aftermath of the 2001 Howard Street Tunnel derailment and fire.

Kendrick credited a change in CSXT management's attitude toward working with local governments.

"This is a whole new approach to doing things than has been the case for many decades," he said.

Kendrick said Cummings and former Maryland Transportation Secretary John D. Porcari helped Mayor Sheila Dixon persuade CSXT to address the bridge issue.

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