Opponents of an 80-foot-high span across the lower Severn River appealed to state transportation officials Tuesday night to pursue another design.
Representatives from the State Highway Administration said construction on the span, which would replace the Route 450 drawbridge, could begin in 1992 and be completed two years later.
The final design is nearly complete, with the state preparing to put the $40 million project out for contractors' bids.
For 2 1/2 hours Tuesday, opponents asked highways Administrator Hal Kassoff to delay the project, even if it means losing $32 million in federal aid,and reopen public hearings on a decision made seven years ago.
The opponents -- including County Councilwoman Maureen Lamb, Annapolis Alderman Dean Johnson and Joe Coale, president of Historic Annapolis Inc. --argued that the span, more than 50 feet higher than the existing drawbridge, would detract from the city's historic, small-town charm.
The 2,800-foot-long bridge will spoil several acres of wetlands and wildlife habitat, not just the half-acre projected by the highway administration, they said.
Describing the bridge's architectureas "slab and pedestal," they said they fear it would obscure and ruin Jonas Green Park outside Annapolis.
"We need to look at this as to what we want the city of Annapolis to be 60 years from now," Johnson said. "This bridge will be part of this city longer than anyone inthis room."
"A new bridge appears to be the only option, but the height doesn't have to be so big," said Coale.
Several people saidthe height of the proposed bridge has increased from 60 to 80 feet over the last seven years.
"When I saw the plans for the bridge, I was shocked," said Annapolis resident Keith Oliver, who said he worked as an architect on the 1967 Montreal World Expo. "The proposal for the high bridge has lost all human scale."
Because of sediment from construction along U.S. 50 during the past several years, Annapolisresident Jim Martin said he has no faith the State Highway Administration can minimize environmental damage.
"Your track record is pretty dismal," Martin said. "We don't hold out much hope that that wetland will survive."
During the hearing, Kassoff said engineers had decided the 66-year-old drawbridge must be replaced after a portion sank in 1979. During public hearings in 1983 and 1984, motorists and boaters complained they wanted a higher span rather than a new drawbridge.
SHA officials finally unveiled the span design last May.
"The common thread tonight seems to be that the State Highway Administration is mindlessly pursuing another typical state road at this site," Kassoff said. "That's the furthest from the truth. One would have to be blind not to recognize . . . this is an extraordinary site. That's why we went through so thoughtful a process."
Although 20,000 cars cross the drawbridge daily, making it the state's busiest draw-span, the replacement will have only one lane of traffic each way, he said. It also will have lanes for bicycles and light rail.
"The question we have to ask is whether we heard anything that would cause us to change course," Kassoff said later. "I don't want to get anyone's hopes up. We can't change the fact that it is 95 percent designed. We can't change the fact that we stand to lose the federal money."
The state may lose the federal money anyway if the transportation department cannot find the $8 million it must contribute toward construction to qualify for the grant. The department says it doesn't have the money. The General Assembly says it does.
"My best guess is with $32 million at stake, the state will find $8 million," Delegate Michael Busch, D-Annapolis, said.