Oldtown toll bridge could reopen soon


OLDTOWN -- The Oldtown toll bridge, a privately owned Potomac River crossing here in the mountains that the state closed in August because of safety concerns, could reopen as soon as next month, says its owner, who is making plans to repair the 58-year-old span.

The one-lane wooden bridge, which links Oldtown with Green Spring, W.Va., across the North Branch of the Potomac River, is Maryland's only privately owned toll bridge -- remembered by many who have dropped the toll into a tin cup.

Ray Miller, a Silver Spring contractor and a son-in-law of owner Frances Walters, said a Baltimore-area engineering firm is completing plans to repair the 317-foot-long bridge.

The firm has not estimated the cost of repairs, which include reinforcing 10 piers supporting the span and stabilizing an abutment on the Maryland side, he said. However, the state estimated the cost of repairs between $180,000 and $200,000.

"Mrs. Walters' feeling is that the bridge has been there for nearly 60 years, and if we have to spend that kind of money to save the bridge, we should look into it," Mr. Miller said. "The bridge might stand another 50 years. It means a lot to people here."

House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., an Allegany County Democrat, said he has asked the state Department of Transportation about obtaining low-interest loans to help the family make the repairs.

State highway officials closed the bridge Aug. 2 because of "serious structural deficiencies" resulting from age and constant pressure from the river's flow. Mr. Miller said some of the concrete piers that support the bridge were eroding and the abutment on the Maryland side has shifted.

Dan McMullen, Allegany County administrator, said county officials have received numerous letters and phone calls from Oldtown and other county residents who use the bridge daily. West Virginia residents and employers also have expressed concerns about the bridge's reopening.

"There's been a good faith effort on everybody's part to bring this to some resolution," he said.

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