After almost a year of making their case in public with computer-simulated graphics, helicopter flights and press conferences, opponents of an 80-foot bridge over the Severn River finally had their day in U.S. District Court yesterday.
But Judge Joseph C. Howard refused to allow testimony from five of the opponents' key witnesses or to to hear evidence from outside the state and federal record before yesterday afternoon's hearing in Baltimore.
Howard is expected to rule before Monday whether to stop construction of the proposed $40 million span.
"We started today three touchdowns down," lamented Bryson Popham, an attorney for the City of Annapolis, which joined the suit filed by Citizens for the Scenic Severn River Bridge.
"When the administrative record is silent on a point, and you're not allowed to bring in expert witnesses to say something else should have been done it makes it very difficult to make your case," he said.
Judge Howard grilled state and federal highway officials, asking pointed questions about how they planned the bridge.
Maryland Department of Transportation attorney Lawrence Fletcher-Hill was forced to concede that the state never formally considered amidlevel drawbridge as an alternative during the public hearings forthe bridge held in 1983 and 1984.
He also admitted that trucks would be allowed over the new bridge and that their impact on traffic in Annapolis' historic district had not been considered in any trafficstudies -- points seen as key to bridge opponents' case.
But Fletcher-Hill moved from the defensive to the offensive, holding up a 2-by-3 foot book, weighing an estimated 30 pounds, full of blueprints.
Any complaints about the plans for an 80-foot bridge, which cost the state $2 million to draw, should have been heard back in 1985, the attorney said.
"This is what it takes to build a bridge," he said leafing through the blueprints.
"And this would not have been doneif the suit was filed in 1985."
Fletcher-Hill outlined several meetings and public forums before 1985 where the high bridge was discussed and approved. He said the high bridge design was well known in 1985.
But Popham pointed to the proposed bridge's wider lanes and a provision for light rail that was added to the plans in 1989 as evidence that the public wasn't informed of significant changes to the bridge design.