After 60 years, Cockeysville underpass going under

Jacques Kelly

October 04, 1990|By Jacques Kelly

Sixty years ago this month, automobile traffic began flowing through the Cockeysville underpass, which is now being demolished.

There's no more need for this relic of the Herbert Hoover era of motoring. Trains stopped running across the tracks of the Northern Central Railroad at this York Road junction years ago.

A new flat roadway, without an underpass, will course through downtown Cockeysville. There'll also be a new bridge over Beaver Dam Run. The work is scheduled to be completed in 1992.

Over the years, the old concrete underpass seemed like an indelible part of the mental picture of driving along York Road. It was a reminder this thoroughfare had a life before shopping malls, fast-food restaurants and other hideous roadside clutter.

Not that the underpass was a thing of beauty. It wasn't. Over the years, it had turned the color of a dried up old moccasin. During a very heavy rain, it filled up with water. The underpass wasn't very wide. Any truck over 14 foot high couldn't pass through.

But it was a driving landmark and marked Cockeysville as distinctively as any marker.

In this part of Baltimore County, directions are always charted by how far you are from the underpass. Valley View Farms, for example, is to the north. Timonium is south.

The underpass was begun in February 1930 and completed that October. The construction cost was borne by the State Roads Commission and the Pennsylvania (Northern Central) Railroad. Dozens of the rail line's freight and passenger trains roared across busy York Road, the main auto highway to York, Pa., and the smaller towns along the way.

Engineers on the Pennsy's steam locomotives knew that York Road was a treacherous grade crossing. Lowered crossing gates didn't always stop Model Ts from charging down the natural incline where York Road descends into the basin of Beaver Dam Run.

As a result, the Pennsy's design department came up with a plan wherein the auto traffic -- and some remaining horse-drawn wagons -- could pass under the iron rails. All it took was tons of reinforced concrete and the sacrifice to progress of merchant Max Goldberg's general store.

When the building of the overpass was finished, a bronze plaque marked the achievement.

After 60 years of use, the underpass is showing its age. It is considered too small for present traffic needs. The railroad now stops all operation at a point west of York Road. (Tropical Storm Agnes, which swept Maryland in 1972, wrecked many rail bridges and the line was only partially restored. There is no through service to York anymore.)

As planned, on the weekend of Oct. 13, vehicular traffic will be diverted out of the underpass permanently. It will run gingerly on two small service roads that pass hard by the antique shops that have sprouted in Cockeysville in the last 20 years. The underpass is expected to be filled in by mid-December. That date will come only too soon for Cockeysville merchants faced with decreased business during the length of the project.

The presence of buried utility lines under York Road complicate the job. And once removal is completed, work begins on a replacement Beaver Dam Run Bridge. This stream also cuts under York Road, just a few feet from the north end of the underpass.

In the midst of this heavily developed part of Baltimore County, beavers are building dams in the water.

"I guess the stream earned its name back again," said Terry Winner, a State Highway Administration employee overseeing the project.

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