It was former newspaper columnist Hollis Paschen's misfortune to be the first motorist who rolled up to the crumbling, 59-year-old Falls Road Bridge just after it closed.
Headed for a job interview at a professional office center just north of the short, high bridge near Lake Roland, she pulled up yesterday just as barricades were put into place. The bridge is to be demolished and rebuilt by Dec. 20.
"I can't believe it," she said, contemplating a seven-mile detour to get about 700 feet north. "I'm already an hour late," she moaned, staring ahead from her battered white Datsun.
The bridge, finished in 1931, is being replaced with a $4.9 million, 658-foot-long structure that is to be completed by Oct. 20. State highways spokesman John Hammond said drivers can count on Dec. 20 for sure. Corman Construction Inc. of Jessup has the contract.
Hammond said the old bridge, spanning Jones Falls just north of the city-Baltimore County line near Mount Washington, is too narrow, deteriorated and in too tight a spot to allow traffic to continue to flow while the work is under way. The replacement had been announced previously. Besides, the job can be done twice as fast and twice as cheaply by closing it while work goes on, he said. The light rail line being built through the site complicates the job, he said.
The closing was less of a shock to Isabelle Cole, 75. Her old wooden house is among a cluster in the 6100 block of Falls Road that sit literally in the shadow of the old bridge's northern end.
As a teen-ager, Cole watched the bridge being built as she walked her brothers and sisters to school, she recalled.
Her main worry now is whether an ambulance can get to the small community of mostly elderly people on the span's north side, especially because she suffers from diabetes and has required an ambulance trip to a hospital three times in the past year.
Delores Carr, 58, who lives close to the bridge's north end in a tiny house that can be reached only be walking or driving under the old span, is also worried about her access when the wreckers start tearing apart the concrete.
"I like it here cause it's private. I don't want to lose everything I've got," she said, fearful of the heavy machines, vibrations, dirt and noise.
Owners of some nearby businesses, especially on the south side of the bridge, also expressed apprehension about the year-long shutdown. A small convenience grocery, a lunchtime drive-in pizza and sub joint and a residential trash operation that stores its trucks under the bridge operate there.
"I think it's going to be drastic," Margaret Darr, manager of the WaWa convenience store at the south end, said of the effect of the closing.
Others seemed less concerned.
"It [business] comes back," said Bernie Fink, who owns a liquor store a block south of the bridge. "I've been through the Kelly Avenue bridge job, Hurricane Agnes, and you lose some customers for a while and you get some new ones."
Cheryll Taylor, whose family has lived at the southern end of the bridge for decades and operates a trash collection business there, acknowledged the inconvenience, but said she knows the work has to be done.
Said Taylor: "I'd rather see this than see it collapse one day."