Severn's Stealthy New Span

September 23, 1994

Just in time for a change in the seasons, the 70-year-old drawbridge over the Severn River has been replaced by a spanking new 80-foot-high arch of steel and concrete. Now open for traffic, the new $34 million span will offer a scenic approach to the U.S. Naval Academy and the state capital from Route 2.

We have made no bones about our affection for the former drawbridge. On bright spring and autumn days in particular, it had something of a magic quality to motorists traversing the narrow stretch.

On one side of the steely waters lay Chesapeake Bay, glittering in the distance; on the other side rose the copper banks of the Severn, framed by Naval Academy housing on one side and the wedding cake-like Manresa mansion on the other. Add to that a rainbow of spinnakers on the water below and the image was intoxicating.

That old drawbridge skimmed close to the water's surface, affording a peculiar intimacy. In contrast, the new bridge soars upward and then descends.

That design, of course, is the whole reason for its being: to allow sailboats to pass underneath unhindered and to keep vehicular traffic flowing. The new bridge is wide enough to have lanes on the shoulder that may be used by motorists who want to slow down to snap a photograph. The shoulders seem promising as fishing sites as well.

This new span was bitterly controversial from the beginning. Now that it is nearing completion, it doesn't look half bad once one forgives the massive arch design.

But then most of the users, whether motorists or pedestrians, will never see the profile of the bridge. Instead, they see the wide traffic lanes and sidewalks and lamp posts that continue through the length of the span. The overall impression is quite pleasant. The approaches on both sides of the river have been redirected so that the profile of the arch is not visible.

Is this a commentary on the state of contemporary bridge-building: a successful end product requires the mass of the project to be hidden from view?

In a few years, we suspect, most everyone will be so comfortable with this new Severn River crossing into Annapolis that the old drawbridge will be virtually forgotten.

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