Bigger bridge planned to relieve traffic woes

July 24, 1995|By Ed Brandt | Ed Brandt,Sun Staff Writer

The little bridge in Glenarm that wouldn't die still hasn't, but its days are numbered -- or in this case renumbered.

The 161-foot-long, 20-foot-wide concrete bridge crosses Gunpowder Falls at the intersections of Cromwell Bridge, Cub Hill and Glen Arm roads, where a confusing traffic pattern contributes to backups of a mile or more at each evening's rush hour.

No less confusing has been the array of government agencies involved in the process since Baltimore County officials started planning the bridge's demise in 1978, announced at least twice that construction was about to begin, then seemed to forget about it.

"Things are now falling into place," says Robert C. Berner, Baltimore County's chief highway designer. "I think we're finally going to do it."

Mr. Berner said he expects to advertise for bids on the $4 million project this fall, with construction of a bridge about 55 feet downstream of the current one to begin in late winter or early spring.

The intersection of the three roads will be reconfigured to allow a smooth flow of traffic and eliminate backups. About 10,500 cars cross the bridge each weekday.

The current bridge, which replaced a covered wooden bridge when Calvin Coolidge was president of the United States, will remain in place until the new one is opened, Mr. Berner said.

As rush hour traffic lined up at the 70-year-old bridge last week, a motorist wondered why the condition it creates has been allowed to last so long.

"I just don't understand it," the motorist said as she inched along Cromwell Bridge Road. "It's dangerous," she said.

"I guess you could call it a worst-case scenario," Mr. Berner said. His department spent years wrestling the project through county, state and federal agencies.

"It's the system," he said. "We had wetlands, a body of water and Gunpowder Falls State Park to complicate matters, and this brought all sorts of agencies into play."

Among them were the Army Corps of Engineers, the federal Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Administration, the U.S. Advisory Council of Historic Preservation, plus their state and county counterparts, including the Maryland Historic Trust, the state Department of Natural Resources, and the Department of the Environment, each with subagencies.

The project began in 1978 with a lengthy environmental impact statement, followed by several public meetings, consultation with community associations and negotiation with seven property owners who had to give up small parcels of land. It dragged on for years as regulations swayed back and forth, and personnel in the multitude of involved agencies changed.

"We would get a letter from someone in an agency objecting to something in our plans, and by the time we scheduled a meeting on the subject, that person would be gone and replaced by someone with a different objection," Mr. Berner said. "Everyone has signed off on it now."

He estimates that it will take about 18 months to restructure the intersection and build the bridge. He said he didn't expect the intersection to be closed for more than a day at any one time.

Stanley Pollack, president of Summerfield Farms Association, a civic group covering an area that includes Glenarm, said, "Overall, it's got to be done, a new bridge has to be built. Every time there's a heavy rain, the bridge is closed and you have to go miles and miles to get around it."

Mr. Pollack has watched the planning process closely almost from its inception and provided an example of why the proposed bridge has been so long in coming.

"The county wanted to include a 6-foot chain-link fence along one side of the bridge, and we complained about that as being ugly," he said. "The county said it was a state regulation, to prevent fishing and bridge jumping, but we suggested that was silly, people could always go to the other side and fish or jump."

The state waived the regulation.

The new bridge will be 240 feet long and 30 feet wide, with a 7-foot walkway, and will be 7 feet higher than the old bridge. This will eliminate problems with flooding from heavy rain.

The federal government is paying for 90 percent of the bridge cost, and 70 percent of the road work.

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