New technology will replace treasured bridge

July 20, 1995|By Ellen Gamerman | Ellen Gamerman,Sun Staff Writer

It creaks. It clangs. It grinds. It groans.

The Weems Creek Bridge is not dying quietly. But the 1929 bridge, which begins making noise as early as 5 a.m. as it swivels to allow boats to pass, soon will be silenced as a new, state-of-the-art span takes its place.

"It's really loud," said Brian Cronyn, who can see the bridge from his backyard and hear it from every room of his white-shingled house on Weems Creek Drive just outside the city. "We hope the new one is a little quieter."

The state began advertising for bids this week for a $5 million bridge to replace the old one. Construction is expected to begin this fall on a hydraulically powered span that will silence the openings and closings.

The new bridge will share the unusual "swing span" design that has won local fame for the old Weems Creek Bridge. The span swivels, instead of lifting like a drawbridge, so that tall boats can pass. The Weems bridge is one of only three swing spans in Maryland.

Earlier this year the state offered to give away the center portion of the bridge, which connects the affluent Weems Creek community to downtown Annapolis via Ridgely Avenue. The offer is good until Oct. 1, but if no one volunteers to float the span away on a barge, the rusting structure will be demolished.

The bridge is considered a treasure in the quiet waterside communities surrounding Weems Creek, but even residents here say it is too tired and old to stand much longer.

"Why nobody's been killed on the old one, I don't know," said Robert D. McWethy, who has lived atop a hill overlooking the bridge for 14 years.

The pilings are corroding, the metal supports are rusting, the concrete is deteriorating, and the bridge seems to be listing, residents said.

Mr. McWethy, a retired Navy captain, was one of scores of residents who met with State Highway Administration officials to draft blueprints for a new bridge. He, like many other nearby residents, is enamored of the result. It is not too high and follows the lines of the existing bridge.

"It's going to be more open and graceful and flowing," said Glenn Vaughan, a bridge engineer with the State Highway Administration.

The new bridge will have fewer pilings and be slightly wider, with enough room for a sidewalk and bike lane on one side, he said. Instead of opening the bridge from a control panel on the span, the bridge master will have a control tower by the roadway, he said.

"We really needed it," said Annette "Annie" Bellington, who has opened and closed the bridge for 12 years.

She spends her days waiting for boats to pass through from about 30 slips upstream.

Ms. Bellington doesn't get dewy-eyed about the old bridge. But some of the neighbors say they will miss what the bridge represented -- a slower, sweeter way of life in the county.

And some residents say they worry whether a familiar pair of blue herons and an osprey will visit the new span, and doubt the new metal stands will attract crabs the way the old timber stands do.

Brian Cronyn's wife, Lynne, said she wonders whether the new bridge will have the same lazy way of opening.

"I think I'm going to miss the slower pace of this bridge," she said as she looked out at the bridge.

"If you took a hard, dispassionate look at it, the bridge is just a bunch of old wood, hard edges, rust and falling cement," Mr. Cronyn said. "But in your mind's eye, it still looks grand and old and special.

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