Road closure worries merchants Replacing bridge will shut Old Columbia Pike in 1997

June 14, 1996|By Shanon D. Murray | Shanon D. Murray,SUN STAFF

The Tiber-Hudson branch of the Patapsco River always has been considered a prized scenic feature in historic Ellicott City. But next year's scheduled replacement of a bridge above the stream will cause some financial headaches, merchants say.

Replacement of the bridge, which runs parallel to Main Street, will force a portion of Old Columbia Pike from Main Street to Hunter Road to be closed from March to November of next year, said James M. Irvin, director of Howard County's Department of Public Works.

Merchants said the $800,000 project, discussed at yesterday's meeting of the Ellicott City Business Association, could hurt the summer tourist business or even holiday shopping if bad weather forces the project to go beyond November.

"It'll be pretty bad for business," said Vernon Scoone, owner of the Rebel Trading Post, an antiques and military nostalgia shop. "November will have to be the absolute latest for them to complete the work."

County officials do not underestimate the importance of the road to the historic district's businesses, but insist the bridge is in "terrible shape," said Irvin.

"Now it's time to do something," he said.

The eight-month project calls for the bridge's beams and deck to be replaced.

The stone walls boxing in the stream also will be strengthened, said Bill Malone of the Department of Public Works, the project manager.

Although cars will not be able to reach Old Columbia Pike from Main Street -- the heart of the historic shopping district -- (P pedestrian traffic will be unaffected, he said.

Nonetheless, the construction "will impose a hardship," said Tony McGuffin, owner of the Ellicott Theatre at Main Street and Old Columbia Pike for the last six months. Construction will block access to the stage door where performers unload their equipment, he said.

Guili Cox, owner of Wessel's Florist, said she can't predict how much the road closure will affect her business -- but just in case, she's grateful that much of her trade depends on telephone orders.

"Weekends will pose the largest problems," she said. "I'm sure it will affect the walk-in business and cut down on the high volume of pedestrian traffic."

Merchants also fear the construction may hinder access of patrons from Main Street to merchants along Tongue Row -- an attention-starved row of shops along Old Columbia Pike.

Always eager for more pedestrian traffic, the often-forgotten area will be hurt the most by the closing, merchants said, but they are resigned to the project.

"There's nothing we can do about it," said Bill Nelson, owner of Hi Ho Silver Co., a gold and silver design and repair shop in the Row. "It has be be done. I just hope it's done before Christmas."

Pub Date: 6/14/96

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