Annapolis Battle Over The Bridge Too High Is All But Over

The Top Stories Of 1991

December 29, 1991|By Robert Lee

They held "Hands Across The Severn," marched, petitioned, flew helicopters overhead and conducted opinion polls.

And when that failed,the opponents of a high-level replacement for the Severn River Drawbridge made a federal case out of it -- all to no avail.

Traditionalists had been grousing since mid-1990 about plans to build a 2,800-foot-long by 54-foot-wide by 80-foot-high span where a 1920s-era 1,800-by-31-by-12-foot drawbridge enters Annapolis near the U.S. Naval Academy. The movement to stop the bridge began in earnest June 15, when 80 protesters from across the county converged on the crumbling bridge for a well-publicized march.

"I'm just sorry the support didn't surface earlier," protest organizer -- and later the attorney for the group -- Thomas McCarthy Jr. said.

Ironically, the federal judge who tried his case six months later said much the same thing, ruling that Citizens for the Scenic Severn River Bridge had come along too late to legally stop the state from building.

With the exception of the City Council of Annapolis, which has no jurisdiction over the project, every official body that has been asked to reconsider the seven-year-old high bridge alternative has rejected the group's protest.

Despite an opinion poll showing that just 26 percentof Annapolis-area residents prefer the high span favored by the State Highway Administration, state legislators, the governor, the Federal Highway Administration and most importantly U.S. District Judge Joseph C. Howard all determined it was too late to stop the project thisyear. Many cited fears that delaying construction could jeopardize federal money approved for the project.

"If we give up the ($32 million federal grant) now, it could be another decade -- if ever -- before a similar funding opportunity presents itself," Gov. William Donald Schaefer wrote last August, explaining his decision to stick with the high bridge. "That is too long a period to wait to begin work on a safer bridge."

"I am not a supporter of a high bridge; I supported building a bridge whose design was chosen by consensus over eight years. Suddenly, we get this reaction characterizing it as the 10,000-pound eggplant that ate Annapolis," said Sen. Gerald Winegrad, D-Annapolis, an environmental leader whose support of the SHA plan surprised many.

The citizens' group remains intransigent and is appealingHoward's decision, but the Cianbro Corp. of Maine has been given thego-ahead to begin work on the new span next month.

"The reports of our death have been exaggerated," said Bryan Miller, the president of the Citizens group.

It's a long shot, but after discovering that the 67-year-old drawbridge was designed by Joseph B. Strauss -- thesame man who designed San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge -- the National Register of Historic Places agreed to review whether the old drawbridge is eligible for inclusion on its register.

If it is eligible, a new study may be required that could delay construction and even save the bridge.

"We won't give up the ship," said Mary Warren, an amateur historian and citizens group member.

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