Expanding the last 3.6 miles of the Baltimore Beltway from two lanes to four doesn't sound like a major job, but it will cost Maryland's highway toll payers $90 million.
That's because the two-lane portion is on the Dundalk side of the Francis Scott Key Bridge, which carries the Beltway over the Patapsco River.
The new portion of roadway will have to be elevated, next to the current approach, which crosses Bear Creek just offshore from Turners Station.
State highway engineers held a public hearing last week to discuss the project, and work is to begin in 1994 to eliminate what state officials say is a safety hazard and a future Beltway bottleneck.
Michael Lozovatsky, chief of design for the Maryland Transportation Authority, said the agency hopes to lower costs by bringing all four lanes of the Beltway down to ground level on the east side of Bear Creek, eliminating a mile of existing elevated roadway.
It costs 10 times as much per square foot to build elevated highways as it does to build ground-level roads, he said.
Although the planned expansion initially worried people in Turners Station and will require utility relocation on Bethlehem Steel Corp.'s Sparrows Point property, support for the proposed route has grown.
Dunbar Brooks, a Turners Station native and county school board member, said residents originally thought the expansion might take some of Fleming Park or the community center building at the water's edge. But the state now plans to add the two lanes on the side of the roadway away from the community, out over water.
Sharon L. Snyder, a Bethlehem Steel official working with state engineers, expects no disruption to the company's operations.
Original plans called for a four-lane approach to the Key Bridge, which opened in 1977. But money got scarce and Bethlehem Steel didn't want to give up the land at the time.
So two lanes were built on the Dundalk side.
Since then, the shrinking steel company has ceded both land and responsibility for much of its roadway system to county and state governments. And the money for the expansion will come from bridge, highway and tunnel tolls, not from the Transportation Trust Fund, which is financed largely by gasoline taxes.
The two-lane roadway has created many problems over the years. Mr. Lozovatsky said that virtually any mishap or repairs on the Dundalk approach can force closure of the entire span.
Since hazardous materials, oversized loads and recreational vehicles carrying propane gas tanks cannot be driven through Baltimore's two harbor tunnels, the bridge is an important economic link.
In addition, Mr. Lozovatsky said, increasing traffic will require more lanes to prevent congestion at rush hours.
Toll Facilities Police said that since January 1989, 16 personal injury accidents, including two deaths, have occurred on the two-lane portion of the bridge approach.
Assuming no major obstacles, Mr. Lozovatsky said, the state will advertise for bids on the project's first phase, a $27 million bridge over Bear Creek and an expanded toll plaza, early in 1994.
Completion of the whole project is scheduled for late 1997.