Tuesday, May 19, 2009

At least they're not calling it a "bridge to nowhere"

Read this story from the New York Times about a new bridge over the Monongahela River that will soon essentially displace a ferry service that has been used for decades. The locale of these goings on is Fredericktown, Pennsylvania, in Appalachia, and the ferry links that town, in Washington County, to Fayette County, PA, to the east. Perhaps more importantly, as the story by Sean D. Hamill notes, the ferry has connected struggling Fayette County with "the healthy urban cores in Pittsburgh and Morgantown, W.Va." Previously, Fayette County was home to mines; now it is home to a state prison, which creates much of the traffic crossing from Fredericktown to Washington County on the river ferry.

In the near future (c. 2012), however, an expressway--complete with bridge--is to be completed to link Fayette County to the rest of the region, including Washington County. Yet residents are resistant to give up the local ferry, known as "Fred," which they have relied on for years. Here's an excerpt that includes a quote from a local resident:

For most of Fred’s loyal passengers, the familiar red-and-white steel shell has become as much a part of the valley as the river itself. For a region that has seen mines and factories shut and residents and stores leave in their wake over the last 40 years, Fred has become a cause to hold onto.

“It’s the big conversation here all the time now,” said Cheryl Ann Boone, a bartender at Bower Brothers Lounge, a restaurant that sits near the entrance to the ferry in Fredericktown. “It’d be terrible to shut it down. It’s a landmark here, and we’ve lost so much already over the years.”

Another local woman, age 62, states that she won't take the bridge once it's finished. Of Fred, she says, "I’d love to see it continue. It’s just been such a big part of my life.”

Meanwhile, a county commissioner for Washington County, which like Fayette County has long subsidized the ferry, states: “It’s a quaint little artifact that we have in Washington County, and we’re proud of it ... But how much can you spend on quaintness?”

The story notes the role of the federal government in all of this. First, the federal government is presumably financing the new expressway and bridge, which are likely to displace the ferry. Second, the federal government has set aside almost $1 million to refurbish or replace the ferry. That same county commissioner states:
[He] started wondering about the ferry’s future in December, when the counties formally accepted a $970,000 federal grant to pay for most of a renovation or replacement for Fred. ... People say, ‘Well, the money has been obligated, why not spend it?’ But I’m not cavalier about spending money ... . We might be spending $1 million to overhaul an operation that might have a life expectancy of three years.
After all of the obloquy (and rural bashing?) associated with that Alaska bridge near Ketchikan--for which Sarah Palin rejected that federal money, leading to a heyday among politicians--I am surprised no one has pejoratively referred to this bridge (as they did to the Alaska bridge) as one "to nowhere."

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