New bridge to open over Weems Creek Residents relieved months of building are finally at an end

'We just can't wait'

Construction snags delayed April opening of quieter swing span

November 17, 1997|By Dan Thanh Dang | Dan Thanh Dang,SUN STAFF

Finally, there is silence.

Eighteen months of rumbling, drilling, and the thwacking of a 40-ton hammer ramming steel pilings into the mud beneath Weems Creek has ended.

The new Weems Creek Bridge opens tomorrow.

For Norma Mezick, the silence is pure joy. So happy is Mezick that she rescheduled a hair appointment to join in the ribbon-cutting ceremony.

She is "not going to miss" the noise that has disrupted her life for the past year, said Mezick, who has lived on top of a forested hill on Weems Creek Drive in Anne Arundel County for about 40 years. "It shook the house and vibrated my dishes. Oh, I'm so glad it's over."

State Highway Administration workers are pretty happy, too. After several delays in the $5.8 million project to replace the deteriorating original, they were getting tired of promising residents, "It'll be done soon. Really."

"It's a nice bridge and a lot of the residents have been very patient," said Michael Palardy, SHA project engineer. "I know the residents will be happy. I know it's been a pain."

Like its 1929 predecessor, the new bridge has a center span that swings open to allow boats to pass, one of only three such bridges in Maryland. Unlike the original, which creaked and groaned when it opened, this hydraulic bridge will hum quietly.

And unlike the original, this bridge won't have it's own "troll lady."

For more than a decade, Annette Bellinger, who lived in a small house so close to the creek that it flooded during extremely high tides, controlled the levers to open the bridge, sometimes 20 times a day. She retired in August 1995 at age 73.

The old bridge, with corroded pilings, rusted metal supports and crumbling concrete decks that quivered when heavy vehicles crossed it, didn't last long after Bellinger retired.

Bellinger was given the "troll lady" nickname by neighbors who spotted her under the bridge while she was watching for approaching boats.

In June 1996, SHA engineers and construction workers started demolishing the structure. The new bridge was to open in April, but construction crews hit several snags.

First, workers discovered concrete in what they thought would be a hollow bridge pier. That delayed work several months. Winter came, further slowing construction.

Crews then discovered the creek bed was too soft for the pilings they had planned to use. They had to order longer steel pilings and other new material.

During all this, residents on either side of the bridge waited patiently. With their convenient route into and out of Annapolis closed, they went the long way around, two miles over busy Rowe Boulevard instead of a half-mile over quiet Ridgely Avenue to the West Annapolis shopping center, with its grocery store and restaurants.

For some, the bridge closing made visiting the city unnecessary.

"I sometimes walked over to the shopping center across the bridge, but I don't miss that so much," said Donald George, a sheet metal mechanic who lives a few hundred yards from the bridge on the county side of the creek. "In fact, there was less traffic, the way I see it. I could care less if it opens or not. I like the peace and quiet just fine."

He might be one of the few who feels that way.

Take Kurt Beall, a manager at Heroes restaurant on Riverview Avenue on the county side of the creek. The bridge closure not only severed easy access to the city, but cut off a steady flow of potential customers past the restaurant, which opened in March in the building that once housed the Weems Creek Tavern.

Business has been bleak, said Beall, who recalled questioning highway crews repeatedly about the status of the project.

"I know we started getting on their nerves because we kept asking, 'When are you opening? When are you opening?' " Beall said. "We just can't wait."

Mezick, whose home overlooks the 400-foot span, said she is so excited, she will "get down there and jump up and down on that new bridge."

She even finds it aesthetically pleasing. "We've got such a lovely bridge now."

Pub Date: 11/17/97

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