Estimates panel to get bridge-replacement contracts today

City, CSX to share costs on Fort Avenue, Sinclair Lane spans

November 18, 2009|By Michael Dresser | michael.dresser@baltsun.com

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

After years of wrangling, the city and CSX reached agreement in principle in October 2007 on the formula for paying for replacement of the Fort Avenue and Sinclair Lane bridges. But it has taken two years to work out the final 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."

CSX spokesman Bob Sullivan said the accord is fully in place now.

"It was really a question of putting the agreement itself together," he said. "It just took a little bit of time."

Under the contracts, which CSX has 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 a 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 CSX 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 E. Cummings, a Baltimore Democrat.

The engineering on the Sinclair Lane bridge has been completed, and construction is expected to begin in May or June, Kendrick said. The 19th-century bridge, for which the exact date of construction is unknown, will take 15 to 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 completed 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 CSX 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 CSX, which publicly feuded in the aftermath of the 2001 Howard Street Tunnel derailment and fire.

Kendrick credited a change in CSX 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 CSX to address the bridge issue.

"For years the city has been trying get CSX to the table. It was indeed a convergence of forces that got them there," Kendrick said.

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