The Baltimore Department of Transportation and railroad conglomerate CSX agreed yesterday to a one-month deadline to decide which entity will pay for improvements needed on five "structurally deficient" bridges in the city.
"We've essentially agreed to agree," said Jason T. French, a spokesman for CSX Transportation. "We today are committed to working with the city of Baltimore, despite what has happened in the past."
For more than a decade, the two have squabbled over which is responsible for maintaining the spans.
But after an eight-lane Minneapolis bridge collapsed 10 days ago during rush hour, Maryland has taken a closer look at bridge safety. On Wednesday, Mayor Sheila Dixon and other lawmakers demanded that CSX fix its ailing bridges in Baltimore.
Representatives for the two parties met for the past two days to hammer out a plan, coming together for a downtown news conference late yesterday afternoon to announce the deal.
Starting Monday, the chief structural engineer for CSX and the chief structural engineer for the Baltimore Department of Transportation will conduct a mutual inspection of each of the five "structurally deficient" CSX bridges - which are along Fort Avenue, Greenmount Avenue, Harford Road, Sisson Street and Wicomico Street - and assess what work needs to be done.
The examination will follow an inspection city engineers conducted this week, said Baltimore Transportation Director Alfred H. Foxx.
"Discussions continue surrounding the funding," he said. "A team of high-level CSX managers and city officials will meet with the goal of bringing these discussions to a conclusion in the next month."
Neither city officials nor CSX representatives would be more specific as to what they're considering - though any solution is certain to cost millions of dollars.
"We're looking at all options," said Foxx, when asked if it was possible that the two would share the cost of repairing the bridges.
French suggested yesterday that CSX might be willing to turn over control of the bridges - and responsibility for future maintenance - to the city.
"We believe the city is much more well-qualified to manage a roadway bridge," he said. "But in this particular situation ... we can't simply walk away from our responsibility."
Not all think the city should be financially responsible for the structures. State Sen. George W. Della Jr., a Baltimore Democrat, said he believes CSX should pay to maintain its bridges.
"It sounds good that there's dialogue going on, but you know those bridges are owned by CSX," Della said. "If the city has to kick in to do this, common sense tells you that [other transportation] projects are going to get bumped."
Foxx emphasized that the five spans "do not pose an immediate danger" to users.
The term "structurally deficient" is given to bridges scoring less than 50 on a scale of 100, and it can denote a variety of problems, from a deteriorating road surface to more serious structural issues that require a major overhaul or even bridge replacement.
The term is not a pure rating of a bridge's structural condition because it also assesses a bridge's capacity and how it compares to current construction standards.
The Fort Avenue bridge, a span in Locust Point that one woman has lobbied for years to have fixed, will cost $5.5 million to repair, according to an engineer's estimate. But the total for repairs to all five spans is unclear, Foxx said.
The effort toward cooperation between CSX and the city comes shortly after the conclusion of a 4 1/2 -year dispute, in which the two entities argued about which was responsible for a train derailment and fire in the Howard Street tunnel. The dispute ended with CSX paying $2 million of the city's costs resulting from the accident, and neither side admitting responsibility.