by Geoff Fox
Town officials are still waiting on word from the National Park Service about the repair of the bridge crossing the C&O Canal in Hancock.
Town Manager Joe Gilbert said the NPS owns the property, however the authority to repair the bridge falls under the Federal Highway Administration.
The NPS alerted the FHA late last year there were structural issues with the bridge and closed the bridge to vehicular traffic.
Right now there are jersey barriers blocking the bridge and allowing only pedestrian and bicycle traffic to cross.
Since that time, Gilbert has been trying to get the project sped up to allow boaters and fishers access to the boat ramp area.
The FHA has already awarded a contract to have the bridge repaired, Gilbert said, but he is unable to find out who the contractor is.
According to the Park Service, Gilbert said, the contractor was already supposed to be in town.
The timeline for the start of repairs is still by the end of the summer.
Gilbert extended a proposal to use ATV’s to take boating equipment over the iron bridge to the boat ramp, but it was denied.
There’s a bigger picture at work as the town was budgeted $200,000 for the improvement of the boat ramp area by the Department of Natural Resources.
Work on the ramp can’t begin until they have access to the site, and that won’t happen until the bridge is repaired.
“That bridge is pretty pivotal for a bunch of items,” Gilbert said.
Mayor Ralph Salvagno said officials have taken advantage of every opportunity with elected official to talk about the boat ramp and the town’s concerns.
“It just doesn’t seem to reach the level of priority that we place on it,” he said.
The boat ramp project itself is a multi-year project that will see the area made safer for multiple uses.
The town has offered multiple solutions such as a portable bridge, and one had been located.
Salvagno said the Park Service told him they couldn’t use the bridge.
Gilbert said he’s written letters to higher ups in the agency stating the town would provide the temporary bridge if they approved it.
“In fact I’ve heard crickets on that,” Gilbert said about the proposal.
When federal officials first made the announcement, they said the bridge condition would require a limit on the tonnage of vehicles crossing. The mayor said that changed, and “they closed the damn thing.”
He added the town didn’t know there were issues or there were to be any inspections on the bridge.
“If it was in Williamsport it would’ve already been fixed,” Councilman Roland Lanehart, Jr. said.
To contact the NPS, the you can call 301-739-4200, or write to Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park, 1850 Dual Highway, Suite 100, Hagerstown, MD 21740.
There is a link on www.nps.gov/choh/contacts.htm where you can email the park as well. Phone numbers for four vistior centers are also listed on that page.