Excerpt from Herald Mail-Media:

State plans to replace a nearly 200-year-old stone-arch bridge in southern Washington County continue to raise concerns among local residents.

A Maryland State Highway Administration official told a county advisory group on Monday that this is the first bridge project in 20 years where she’d heard significant objections from the community.

Architectural historian Anne Bruder was the guest of the Washington County Historical Advisory Board during its meeting at Fireside Restaurant & Lounge.

The board decided Monday to send a letter to the county commissioners asking them to contact state officials to slow down the process of replacing the one-lane stone-arch bridge on Md. 68, also known as Lappans Road.

Board member Ralph Young said the group wants the state to better evaluate the bridge using experts qualified to work with historic structures. The letter also will say that, if possible, the bridge built in 1824 should be saved.

The State Highway Administration held a public meeting on Jan. 31 regarding plans to replace the stone-arch bridge with a two-lane bridge.

While agency spokesman Charlie Gischlar emailed Herald-Mail Media on Monday that the bridge design was finished, it appears there might still be a possibility for changes — at least in material.

“To provide the most economical solution,” the State Highway Administration is proposing to use a stamped concrete facade that looks like stone, Gischlar wrote in an email to Herald-Mail Media last week.

However the agency is waiting for a recommendation from the Maryland Historical Trust before making a final decision, Gischlar wrote. “Other agencies have suggested the use of natural stone, and we are evaluating this option,” though natural stone can create a long-term maintenance issue.

For this project, the trust is to provide “factual determinations about whether proposed work complies with federal standards for the treatment of historic places, and provides advice to agencies about the variety of options available to them for complying with state and federal cultural resource laws. The Trust does not approve, deny, or modify proposed projects,” according to an email from trust spokesman John Coleman.

The trust has not yet responded to a Jan. 3 letter from the State Highway Administration requesting comments.

The bridge is “structurally deficient” and has “significant functional issues,” Gischlar wrote last week.

Dan Spedden, president of the county’s tourism office, said during Monday’s meeting that if evidence supports removing the Lappans Road bridge, then “it will eventually be true of every stone-arch bridge in the county” because it will always be cheaper and simpler to replace such bridges.

Why did the federal government spend so much restoring Burnside Bridge at Antietam National Battlefield and why should the Conococheague aqueduct be rebuilt at the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historic Park, Spedden asked.

Both projects serve to inspire and entertain tourists, Spedden said. The county’s stone-arch bridges also are a tourist attraction.

“If it’s a waste of money for a stone-arch bridge, it’s a waste of money for the aqueduct,” Spedden said facetiously.

A Hagerstown-Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau website lists 22 historic stone-arch bridges that span the Conococheague Creek, Antietam Creek or tributaries. The Lappans Road bridge crosses Beaver Creek as it converges with Antietam Creek.

The walls in the arch corners of the Lappans Road bridge bulge and concrete grout-filled bags line the inside of the bridge’s foundations to protect them from washing away, Gischlar wrote in his email. The one-lane bridge, which has a hump in the road, also has limited sight distance for drivers and doesn’t safely accommodate bicyclists and pedestrians.

Gary Rohrer, a former county public works director familiar with stone-arch bridge restoration projects, said he checked out the bridge on Saturday.

Rohrer told the advisory board that every effort should be made to save the bridge and he’d like to see a more thorough evaluation of the bridge to determine whether it can be rehabilitated.

But, Rohrer said he doesn’t know if the concrete buttresses added in 1979 to support the bridge’s wings can be removed without destroying the bridge.

He agreed something has to be done about the bridge soon to maintain a safe crossing.

The Washington County Historic District Commission is expected to discuss the bridge at a meeting next week, said Rohrer, a member of that panel. But neither the commission nor the advisory board have any control over the Lappans Road bridge because that’s a state project, he said.