Decades-Old Documents Determine Who’s Responsible for Rusty Bridge

The bridge over Quince Orchard Road in Gaithersburg is marred by rust. | Douglas Tallman

Gaithersburg Mayor Jud Ashman wants an eyesore of a bridge to get a coat of paint. The trouble is, who’s going to show up with the brushes?

Freight and passenger trains use the bridge to cross four lanes of Quince Orchard Road, between a commuter parking lot and a motel. Some paint still clings to the span, but to most onlookers, it’s a rusty steel bridge.

The city sent a letter to CSX Corp.—the multibillion-dollar transportation company based in Jacksonville, Fla., that owns most of the rail lines in Maryland—asking it to do something about the bridge.

In its reply, CSX produced a Nov. 8, 1954, agreement between the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Co. and the Maryland State Roads Commission, where the commission took control of the bridge, passing maintenance responsibilities to Montgomery County.

“This was my first inkling the county had anything to do with its maintenance,” Ashman said recently. He said he asked city staff to write the county to paint the bridge.

“It appears to be very rusted over and that was the cause for my concern,” he said.

This closeup shows the extent of the rust on the bridge. | Douglas Tallman

Not so fast, the county said.

After a reporter’s inquiry, county Department of Transportation spokeswoman Esther Bowring produced an agreement from Oct. 28, 1974, which transferred maintenance to the State Highway Administration.

The county also produced an Oct. 6, 2010 email, which responded to similar questions of who owned the bridge.

County Councilmember Sidney Katz, who was Gaithersburg’s mayor in 2010, said the city then raised questions similar to what Ashman asked.

“The concern was, ‘Is anyone checking this bridge?’ And, whether it’s in good shape,” Katz said Wednesday. “And if it’s good shape, ‘Can someone paint it?’”

In the 2010 email, an SHA official acknowledged the state was “fully responsible” for the inspection and maintenance of the bridge.

“We will place this structure on our Paint Tour to be considered for inclusion in a forthcoming area wide Paint Contract,” wrote the official, Mark Glass, of the SHA’s Office of Structures, Inspection Division in Baltimore.

The bridge, of course, was never painted in 2010.

SHA spokesman Charlie Gischlar said SHA gives bridges two priorities, “P1” means a bridge needs to be advertised for cleaning and painting in two or three years; “P2” means a bridge needs to be re-evaluated in three to five years.

Gischlar wrote in an email that SHA’s “paint team” visited the bridge Monday and gave the bridge a “soft” P1 priority.

“There’s universal rust, but there are only several random areas of minimal section losses, but there is no doubt it is unattractive,” he said.

SHA plans to include the Quince Orchard Road bridge in the state’s upcoming paint contract, which means it could get its coat of paint in spring 2019, Gischlar said.

 

Previous posts:

Gaithersburg Mayor Questions Structural Integrity of CSX Bridge Over Quince Orchard Road

Douglas Tallman

About Douglas Tallman

Reporter with 35 years experience throughout Maryland. Reach me at dtallman@mymcmedia.org or via Twitter at @MCM-Doug

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