Opponents of the plan to replace the old Severn River drawbridge in Annapolis with a new 80-foot-high bridge say they have not given up fighting the new plan despite the governor's unequivocal support for it.
Citizens for the Scenic Severn River Bridge, an organization formed to halt the building of a high bridge, has said it will proceed with legal action to try to block the proposal to build an 80-foot replacement span.
"We're going into court," said Thomas McCarthy Jr., a member of the citizens' group. "We haven't made any secret of this."
Gov. William Donald Schaefer yesterday announced that he was giving the state Department of Transportation the go-ahead to build the high bridge. The governor said he feared a further delay could cost the state $32 million the federal government is contributing toward the bridge replacement. Opponents, who became most vocal this summer, fear the plan will mar the capital city's skyline.
In a letter addressed to the "Citizens of Maryland," Schaefer said federal dollars earmarked for the bridge had forced the state to move ahead with plans in spite of the opposition.
"My staff and I talked at length with the Federal Highway Administration in an effort to extend the period of public discussion on the design," Schaefer said in the letter. "But Highway Administration officials, given the dwindling pool of federal dollars for state projects -- especially near the close of the federal fiscal year -- refused to grant us additional time.
"If we give up the money now, it could be another decade -- if ever -- before a similar funding opportunity presents itself. That is too long a period to wait to begin work on a safer bridge."
McCarthy called the governor's claim on the lack of available funding "absurd."
"The governor knows full well the state Department of Transportation has always gotten close to 80 percent of its requested funding," he said. "It's true that the discretionary funds are drying up but now there are non-discretionary funds that should make it even easier to get projects funded. That statement just flies in the face of the realities of federal funding."
The 67-year-old bridge has been at the crux of this summer's hottest debate in Annapolis. State officials and residents agree a new bridge is needed, but their agreement ends there.
The state wants to build a 2,800-foot-long, 80-foot-high bridge. The existing span is 1,800 feet long and 12 feet high, low enough for residents to fish and crab from it. Annapolis residents want to see a replacement similar in size to the existing bridge.
The citizens group met with the governor two weeks ago and submitted two alternate designs, both low bridges and both costing less than the $42.5 million high bridge.
McCarthy said much of the dispute could have been avoided if the state had asked for residents' input on the design. But Schaefer said he found no fault with the state process.
Still, McCarthy said the governor was one of the few people to let the residents voice their concerns.