Opponents of the proposed 80-foot bridge over the Severn River have uncovered documents they say prove that state highway officials have misled the public about plans to eventually expand the bridge to fourlanes.
A Jan. 31, 1989, memo from State Highway Administration chief Hal Kassoff describes a series of meetings among seven state and federal highway engineers in which they agreed that the deck of the bridge "should provide for an ultimate four lanes of traffic and one sidewalk."
The memo says that the three federal highway engineers convinced four engineers from the state to widen the shoulders from six to eight feet during three meetings in late 1988 and 1989.
Brian Miller, a member of the Citizens for a Scenic Severn River Bridge, which brought suit in federal district court to block the proposed 80-foot span, said the memo proves that promises from the District 30 General Assembly delegation and the SHA that the bridge will not be expanded to four lanes were untrue.
But Hal Kassoff and Sen. Gerald Winegrad, D-Annapolis, insisted yesterday that the option to expand the bridge to four lanes at some later date was made only to appease federal authorities, and they reiterated promises that it will not happen.
"The Federal (Highway Administration's) position was: don't design it in a way precluding four lanes so they could say they built a bridge that could be expanded," Kassoff said. "If it wasn't for the light rail requirement that widened the bridge anyway, we would have fought that.
"We have no intention of expanding the bridge, and we have indicated that in writing," Kassoff said, explaining that the roads on the Annapolis side of the bridge could not be expanded to handle the additional traffic.
Winegrad, 47, said the bridge "will not go to four lanes during my lifetime." He promised to join the Citizens for the Scenic Severn River Bridge to fight such an expansion if it is ever proposed.
"I have explained this to them before. Height isn't dictating width; the shoulder would be just as wide if it were a low bridge."
Miller, who issued a press release including the memo yesterday, was not satisfied with the repeated assurances and accused the highway administration of trying to open the heart of Annapolis up asa "bypass for Ocean City traffic."
"All we have that says this won't be a four-lane bridge are thepromises from politicians. And we all know about politicians and promises -- I mean, I voted for George Bush who told me to read his lips about taxes," Miller said. "The factis that bridge is being made to carry four lanes of traffic."
Thememo is included among hundreds of pages of records being reviewed by U.S. District Judge Joseph C. Howard. Citizens for the Scenic Severn River Bridge and the City of Annapolis filed suit Sept. 11 to blockconstruction of the high span. Howard said his ruling is "forthcoming."
Kassoff said the state needs to award the contract to build the bridge "as soon as possible" so construction can begin next spring.
AH Opponents say memos show state misled public on bridge