Transportation Secretary O. James Lighthizer has given opponents of a high-profile bridge across the Severn River an opening to pursue another design.
Lighthizer has told County Councilwoman Maureen Lamb, D-Annapolis, that a June 24 bid on the $40 million bridge could be delayed up to three months because the state Transportation Trust Fund is dry.
"The administration says it doesn't have to go to bid in June," Lamb said yesterday. "It can be extended until September.
"We feel between now and that time, it would be good for the State Highway Administration to reconsider the high-span design."
Lamb and the group Citizens for a Severn Scenic River Bridge have organized a public meeting with SHA engineers at 7 tonight in the General Assembly's joint hearing room in Annapolis.
Opponents, who fear an 80-foot-high span would mar the scenic view around Annapolis and the city's historic ambience, hope to show popular sentiment favors a lower-profile bridge. Ideally, they would like to preserve the Route 450 drawbridge, which rises about 35 feet above the water. The state opted for the high-span design to accommodate boaters and motorists inconvenienced by the drawbridge.
Federal officials could give the state until September, when the General Assembly reconvenes in a special session, to come up with $8 million to match a $32 million federal grant, Lighthizer said yesterday.
"But I wouldn't bet on it," he said. "Anyway, that isn't stenciled to the issue. They want a different bridge design. And a different bridge design isn't possible by any deadline."
Lighthizer said the state would lose the one-time federal aid if it delayed the project long enough to redesign the bridge. The state couldreapply but would have to compete again with other states for the limited money, he said.
"It really comes down to the (approved) design . . . or no bridge," Lighthizer said.
Meanwhile, SHA engineers continue to put the final touches on the design to go to bid June 24.
l The SHA also has applied to the Army Corps of Engineers, which regulates construction in U.S. waters and enforces portions of the Clean Water Act, for a permit to build the bridge, dredge the river andfill in several wetlands around the site.