Annapolis' 4 Lawmakers Support 80-foot Bridge

July 30, 1991|By Gary Gately | Gary Gately,Staff writer

State lawmakers who represent Annapolis, refusing to "join the bandwagon" of opposition to the planned 80-foot-high bridge over the Severn River, unanimously supported construction of the span yesterday.

"It would not be prudent to attempt to block the planned new bridge at this late stage and start the planning process anew," the District30 General Assembly delegation said in a statement.

"While we, too, could easily join the bandwagon protesting the construction of the planned bridge, we believe it more prudent and responsible to assure that a bridge is constructed . . . while ensuring the safety and transportation needs of the citizens we represent," thedelegation said.

Meanwhile, opponents of the high span to replacethe crumbling Route 450 drawbridge vowed to press ahead with their fight.

Yesterday, they presented Gov. William Donald Schaefer an appeal signed "the citizens of Maryland" and a petition for a lower bridge bearing more than 3,000 signatures.

Schaefer, however, repeated earlier concerns yesterday that $32 million in federal money for the $40 million span would likely be lost if the state were to redesignthe bridge.

The District 30 delegation also warned that reopeningpublic hearings on the bridge would jeopardize the $32 million and delay construction until at least 1998. Construction on the bridge is scheduled to begin next year.

Opponents, who have threatened a lawsuit to block construction, argue that the high structure would overwhelm the city's historic skyline, harm wetlands, increase boat traffic on the river, dump high-speed traffic onto a tiny, two-lane road and ultimately become part of a superhighway system through the city.

But in yesterday's statement, the delegation's four members said they had won assurances from the State Highway Administration and from state Transportation Secretary O. James Lighthizer that the 54-foot-wide bridge would carry only two lanes of traffic and would not be expanded to four lanes, as opponents predict.

The delegation said state transportation planners also had promised that:

* The speed limit will not exceed 40 mph in either direction on the new bridge.

*The bridge will not serve as part of a highway system or any "largernetwork of improved roads."

* About a half-acre of wetlands displaced by construction will be replaced nearby.

* An "oversight committee" of contractors, SHA officials and community representatives will meet regularly to minimize the impact of construction and to monitor sediment, storm water, land-clearing and noise levels.

* Noise levels will be measured before and after construction, and any increases will be mitigated by restricting truck traffic or other measures.

* About 300 feet of the existing draw span will be preserved as afishing pier that will be transferred to the Department of Natural Resources and become part of Jonas Green Park.

The delegation also said the existing drawbridge, ranked as the worst in Maryland, can't handle an average of 23,500 vehicles a day and must be replaced soon.

Members of the District 30 delegation -- Delegates Michael E. Busch and John C. Astle, both Democrats; Republican Delegate Phillip Bissett; and Sen. Gerald Winegrad, a Democrat -- could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Thomas McCarthy Jr., an Annapolis attorney and a leader in the fight against the high bridge, said the delegation's move took opponents by surprise.

He accused the lawmakers of reneging on a promise to withhold a final decision until opponents completed a proposal suggesting possible ways to preserve the $32 million in federal money while a lower span is designed.

"The delegation'sdecision was a slap in the face to their constituents and to everyone who expressed concerns about this bridge," McCarthy said. "They turned their backs on the voters, and they're going to suffer the consequences come election time."

Bridge opponents will continue their battle today at a Department of Natural Resources hearing on whether to allow the SHA to relocate wetlands to build the new span. The hearing is scheduled for 1 p.m. at the county Board of Education headquarters on Riva Road.

McCarthy's group, Citizens for the Severn ScenicRiver Bridge, also is to meet tomorrow in Washington with Sen. Barbara Mikulski to discuss whether federal funding could be preserved if the state were to design a lower bridge.

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