With a section of Whites Ferry Road closed for bridge repairs this summer, the owner of Whites Ferry and others are worried about business.
The Montgomery County Department of Transportation expects to close a 2.2-mile segment of Whites Ferry Road for about two and a half months while doing extensive repairs to two bridges between the Town of Poolesville and Wasche Road.
Chief of Bridge Design for the department, Barry Fuss, said that the section will be closed from June 13 until August 25.
Owner of Whites Ferry, Malcolm Brown said that past road closures along Whites Ferry Road, for roadwork or due to snow and ice, has significantly reduced business. According to Fuss, the road was closed in 2000 for bridge repairs. The closed section is the most direct route from the Town of Poolesville to the ferry, which takes passengers, cars and bicyclists across the Potomac River to Leesburg, Va.
“It’ll knock it in half,” he said of business while the road is closed. People will still be able to access the ferry via a detour, but he expects the extra driving will deter customers. Brown said he has about 300 regular commuters who use the ferry daily and an additional 400-500 riders a day, both locals and visitors. The ferry runs year-round when weather permits, but Brown would have preferred the roadwork be completed over the winter, when business is slower anyway. Transportation officials told him that doing the work during the winter wasn’t possible, Brown said.
The 5.5-mile detour will take drivers from the Town of Poolesville north on Elgin Road (Route 109) to West Hunter Road, then south on Wasche Road back to Whites Ferry Road. Fuss said the same detour was used successfully during the last road closure.
The bridges will be repaired one at a time so that people who live along that stretch will be able to come and go from one side or the other, Fuss said.
Other business owners are worried about fewer people, and potential customers, driving through town.
At the Liberty Gas Station on Fisher Avenue, Manager Riley Jamison estimates the station will lose 25 to 30 percent of its business.
Jamison added that the closure will take a toll on farmers who work fields along Whites Ferry Road. It will be more difficult to drive tractors down the rustic roads the detour will take, which are often narrow and poorly maintained, he said. Both Wasche Road and West Hunter Road are designated as ‘rustic’ by Montgomery County, meaning they have different maintenance standards than typical roads which allows the county to keep the roads’ rustic aesthetic.
John Speelman, owner of Poolesville Hardware, isn’t so down about the closure, since he landed a deal with the contractors to sell them supplies for the bridge repairs. He expects to make several thousand dollars from the project. And losing customers is less of a concern for his business.
“Fortunately enough, most customers are on this side of the river,” Speelman said. He may even get more business from people who might otherwise cross the river to shop at Tractor Supply or Home Depot in Leesburg.
The total estimated cost of the bridge project is $2.48 million, according to documents from the County Executive’s office. A inspection in 2009 resulted in a failing score for one bridge and close to failing for the second. Inspectors noted exposed reinforcement rods and numerous cracks on both bridges. Traffic railings also must be updated to current standards.
The bridges will be widened in order to make them safer for bicyclists, Fuss said.
The contract for the repairs, with Charles J. Merlo, Inc., of Pennsylvania includes an incentive for the company to complete the work more quickly, and a disincentive for finishing the project late. For each day, up to eight days, that the project is completely early, the company will earn $10,000 more. It will lose $10,000 with each day after August 25 that the project is not done.
Estimator Project Manager Dave Stover said they expect to use the full time scheduled for the project but hope to finish early.