Annapolis To Decide Whether To Take Bridge To Court

Lawmakers Mull Legal Strategies To Challenge High Span

September 09, 1991|By Gary Gately | Gary Gately,Staff writer

Annapolis lawmakers will meet in closed session tonight to consider whether to go to court to fight the planned 80-foot-high Severn Riverbridge.

City Attorney Jonathan A. Hodgson is to brief the City Council on the case before the 7:30 council meeting.

The council gave Hodgson the go-ahead to sue to stop the bridge in July. But he said he would file a lawsuit only at the request of aldermen after he outlines specific grounds for a suit and legal strategies.

Hodgson refused to discuss specifics of the case, but has told the council the challenge would likely focus on the review processused in selecting the $40 million replacement for the 67-year-old Route 450 drawbridge.

A private Annapolis law firm has agreed to represent the city for free, and aldermen last month authorized the cityto spend $4,000 for expert witnesses.

As the council deliberates a lawsuit, a private group, incorporated late last month as Citizens for the Scenic Severn River Bridge Inc., also plans to sue to stop the high bridge.

Leaders of the citizens group say they hope to jointhe city in a single lawsuit aimed at stopping the bridge.

Opponents had hoped to convince Gov. William Donald Schaefer to reconsider the high span. But the governor quashed those hopes about two weeks ago, saying the state would lose $32 million in federal funds for the project unless it proceeds now.

The state had to tell the Federal Highway Administration by Friday whether it would use the $32 million, and federal officials refused to extend the deadline, Schaefer said. If the state were to scrap plans for the high bridge and consider another span to replace the decaying drawbridge, Maryland could wait adecade or more for new federal money, the governor said.

Opponents argue the two-lane high bridge would ruin the city's historic skyline, damage the environment, worsen congestion and dump high-speed traffic onto narrow streets.

The state is to sign off on contracts tobuild the bridge by November, and construction is scheduled to beginnext year.

Also tonight, the City Council is expected to approve zoning for the long-awaited Gotts Court parking garage.

After nearly four years of debate, the $6.1 million garage overcame its last major hurdle in July, with design approval from the city's Historic District Commission.

The city has already sold bonds to help pay for the project, and the state has agreed to pay up to $2 million in exchange for use of one-third of the more than 500 parking spaces.

Construction of the garage, at Calvert and Northwest streets, is expected to begin by early next year.

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