Just when it seems the particulars for a footbridge over the Amtrak line near Chase have been worked out, opposition from new arrivals threatens the project.
Back in July, community associations in Harewood Park, Twin River and Oliver Beach -- concerned for the safety of children who cross the tracks daily -- recommended building a 50-foot concrete walkway enclosed in wire mesh. They pushed local, state and federal officials for a $1 million footbridge.
But the officials got bogged down in wrangling over who would maintain the bridge. Currently, Baltimore County officials and the state Mass Transit Administration are creeping toward an agreement. Also, money for the walkway became available through Maryland's share of a federal transportation funding bill.
Success seemed within reach.
Then Patricia Sullivan, a new homeowner on the Oliver Beach side of the proposed footbridge, started organizing opposition among her neighbors and people in the Bay Country subdivision.
Tonight, at 7:30 p.m., the entire peninsula will meet at Oliver Beach Elementary School to determine, once and for all, if the bridge will become a reality.
"I've gotten over 400 signatures in 20 days on a petition of those opposing the bridge," said Mrs. Sullivan, whose house is on Harewood Road, an unimproved road that leads to Eastern Avenue Extended.
She said many resident are angry that the county, which is laying off workers and cutting programs, would spend taxpayers' money to maintain a bridge.
Paul L. Hudson, chief of the county Department of Public Works' engineering bureau, said the county has told the MTA it would pay the $22,000-a-year routine maintenance cost with hopes the MTA might agree to pay the biannual inspection costs of $100,000.
Patrick Pomeroy, president of the newly formed Bay Country Concerned Citizens, said no provisions have been made for lighting, for crosswalks across Harewood Road and Eastern Avenue, or for security on the overhead walkway.
He and Mrs. Sullivan said the original meetings and votes on the bridge were done behind the backs of many area residents. They said a majority now opposes the bridge.
John Kerner, president of the Harewood Park Community League, is a bit chagrined over this last-minute opposition. He noted that when the last vote was taken, Mrs. Sullivan didn't live in the area and the Bay Country group didn't exist.
Charles Creswell, an aide to U.S. Rep. Helen Delich Bentley, R-Md.-2nd, has been working on the issue and said if a majority of the residents at tonight's meeting don't want the bridge, "I'll suggest that community leaders from the four associations go fTC back and start over again. . . . If the bridge isn't built, the safety problem is still there and it has to be addressed."
Twenty-six Amtrak Metroliners race down the tracks each day at speeds approaching the authorized 120 mph limit. Regular Amtrak passenger trains, MARC commuter trains and Conrail freight trains, all of which travel slower than the Metroliners, also use the tracks.
Crossing the tracks is not only dangerous, it is trespassing on Amtrak property. It is also shorter than walking a mile to the Ebenezer Road overpass.
Still, Mrs. Sullivan believes the new bridge would "become a haven for kids, especially teen-agers, to hang out, drink and take drugs." She also said the bridge, which would be somewhat isolated among thick bushes and trees lining both sides of the tracks, could become a home for muggers.
Mr. Kerner said he has heard talk that people on the Oliver Beach side don't want Harewood Park kids crossing the tracks to use the recreation facilities around the Oliver Beach school -- the closest recreation area for Harewood Park youths.
"I resent the fact that our kids are being put down, that they somehow aren't good enough to come over there," said Mr. Kerner, who noted that just as many kids from Oliver Beach and Bay Country cross the tracks to get to Harewood Park and the market at the corner of Harewood Road and Harewood Park Drive.
While he can appreciate Mrs. Sullivan's opposition as the homeowner who would be most affected by the bridge, Mr. Kerner said "the issue still remains the safety of our kids."
"If the majority of those at tonight's meeting vote against the bridge, at least we did everything we could for the kids," he said. "I hope there are no hard feelings between communities when it's over."