With the old Severn River Bridge stretching behind them, about 300 Annapolitans sang out their opposition yesterday to plans for a new 80-foot-high span.
To the tune of "This Land is Your Land," a crowd that included civic activists, elected representatives, children and a few dogs sang:
They want a high bridge
We want a low bridge
If they have their say
We'll have a highway
From Washington to our peaceful city
This bridge is not for you and me!
Construction of the new $33.4 million bridge began this month. The first piles may be driven this week.
The organizers of yesterday's rally, Citizens for a Scenic Severn River Bridge, say it's not too late to stop the project.
"Remember -- it's not a done deal," said John Nassif, an Annapolis resident who helped organize the protest on the northern side of the 1920s-era drawbridge.
The citizens group wants to replace the existing bridge, which is crumbling, with a similarly low span.
Thoughthey lost a suit filed in federal court, those who are fighting the high bridge are hoping to win an appeal, scheduled to be heard in Richmond, Va., in mid-June. They are also asking U.S. District Court in Baltimore for an injunction to stop construction until the appeal is heard.
"The chances are never very high that you're going to get (the injunction)," said Tom McCarthy, an Annapolis attorney representing the opponents. "But we're still going to ask for it."
Speaking before the crowd, McCarthy said the bridge issue goes beyond Annapolis. The issue, he said, is the State Highway Administration's single-minded pursuit of federal funding for projects regardless of whether they are wanted or needed by the community.
"We're being decimated by people who don't care," he said. "It's not just here, it's all over the state."
Though the rally was an upbeat affair with music andballoons, high-bridge opponents took advantage of the opportunity tovent their spleens against the SHA and elected leaders who sided with it.
Among the signs on display were two skewering Councilwoman Diane R. Evans, an Arnold Republican, and state Sen. Gerald Winegrad, an Annapolis Democrat and environmental leader.
"Diane Evans: SHA Stooge," read the one sign. "Winegrad Shafts Environment," said the other.
Winegrad also was a target in a skit lampooning state officials and elected leaders who have supported the high bridge. In a mockawards ceremony, Nassif presented awards to life-size dummies of Winegrad; State Transportation Secretary O. James Lighthizer; District 30 delegates Phillip Bissett, John Astle and Michael Busch; and Hal Kassoff, state highway administrator.
Lighthizer got the "Salesman of the Year" award.
"We all know Mr. Lighthizer's ambitions are as broad and ambitious as his freeways," Nassif said. "And he's also a great salesman. Who else could sell (us) off for a mere $32 million?"
Three elected leaders who attended the rally earned cheers -- Councilwoman Maureen Lamb, an Annapolis Democrat; Councilwoman Virginia P. Clagett, a West River Democrat; and U.S. Congressman Wayne Gilchrest, a Republican from the Eastern Shore.
"We're behind you 100 percent," said Gilchrest, who called for an environmental impact study before any bridge is built.
"There's not enough information in Washington or anywhere else to make a definitive statement on wetlands . .. until we put science back in the equation," he said.
Lamb expressed confidence that the appeals court would rule against the high span. "We're going to win it because we're right," she said.
"I justdon't believe for one minute that those judges at that federal courtare not going to see the difference between that 78.5-foot-high bridge and a 15-foot-high bridge," she said. "I just don't think they arethat dumb."