Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2008

Bridge replacement plans draw concerns from residents

Lack of weight restrictions could bring more trucks down rural road, residents say

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Lifted weight restrictions and easier approaches for the planned replacement of the deteriorating 58-year-old White Ground Road bridge could increase truck traffic and vehicle speeds on the rural road, some in the Boyds community say.

The design for the $1.3 million replacement bridge is being finalized, and construction is expected to begin around December and last about nine months, according to Holger Serrano, a deputy division chief in the county Department of Public Works and Transportation. The 28-foot-long steel-beam bridge will be lengthened by about 20 feet and remain one-lane. Average daily traffic is expected to remain at 650 vehicles per day, according to the county’s Web site.

But some in the community are concerned that the county’s plans to lift the bridge’s 34,000-pound weight restriction and transition the new structure into the existing road alignment could create dangerous driving conditions.

‘‘[The bridge is] the only protection the road has from heavy truck traffic,” said Mike Rubin, a Boyds resident and board president of the Montgomery Countryside Alliance. ‘‘...If they remove that weight restriction, it will cause a big problem.”

White Ground Road, which was granted special protections as a rustic road in the county’s 1996 Rustic Roads Functional Master Plan, was reclassified as an exceptional rustic road in 2004, preventing the construction of a larger two-lane replacement bridge. Many residents advocated for the designation, which further safeguards the rural and historic character of the narrow two-lane road.

‘‘If they don’t have a weight limitation, we run the risk of having trucks use it as a pass-through,” said Melissa Foster, president of the Boyds Civic Association, who sent out an e-mail to group members in December encouraging them to write letters to the county.

The county has received five letters from residents concerned about trucks using the bridge and cars speeding on the road, Serrano said.

Foster noted that large trucks using the road to travel from northern parts of the county to Germantown could create problems for passing vehicles and cause congestion.

However, the department does not have much choice in the matter, Serrano said, because the state and county follow federal regulations on when to implement weight restrictions. Since the bridge will be able to handle heavy loads, he said, the county cannot ban trucks from crossing. There are residences on White Ground Road that occasionally need to be accessed by trucks, he said.

‘‘We don’t want trucks going on the bridge, but if they do, we need to make it safe for them,” he said, adding that most trucks avoid rustic roads because they curve and have lower speed limits. The speed limit on White Ground Road is 25 miles per hour. However, since there is another bridge on the road with a 20,000-pound weight restriction, Serrano said, the department is studying whether to put up appropriate signage alerting large trucks.

‘‘I think we’ve taken most of the concerns and incorporated them, but there’s just some we can’t do,” he said.