Bridge gets new home Heritage: A 64-year-old span, replaced with a new structure over Knapps Narrows on Tilghman Island, is moved 20 miles to a museum in St. Michaels.

October 08, 1998|By Chris Guy | Chris Guy,SUN STAFF

ST. MICHAELS -- After serving for 64 years as the link between Tilghman Island and the rest of the world, the 100,000-pound Knapps Narrows Bridge took a 20-mile barge trip yesterday.

It was the first move toward becoming what Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum officials say will be its most visible landmark.

Work crews unloaded the hulking steel structure at the museum's 18-acre campus by the St. Michaels' harbor on the Miles River yesterday, maneuvering the span onto dry land with a 250-ton crane and other heavy equipment.

The bridge, replaced by a new structure, will form the centerpiece of the museum's new $500,000 entrance off Talbot Street, St. Michaels' main thoroughfare.

The project, part of a five-year improvement plan for the museum that bills itself as the leading conservator of the bay's heritage, will provide better access, visibility and parking to the facility that draws nearly 100,000 visitors a year.

Even before the state announced plans to replace the bridge, the museum wanted to establish an entrance off Talbot Street (Route 33).

"Using the bridge as a centerpiece is a wonderful opportunity," said curator Pete Lesher.

When state highway officials decided in 1995 to replace the aging structure, museum officials were able to negotiate a $1 deal, offering to preserve the historic span that has opened an estimated 12,000 times a year since 1934 to accommodate boat and automobile traffic to and from Tilghman Island.

The bridge and a small bridge-tender's shack are sitting on two flatbed trailers and will be towed about 1,000 feet and set onto a foundation over the next month, said officials of Cherry Hill Construction Inc. of Jessup, which handled the $200,000 move.

"It really was a pet project for us," said David Openshaw, the engineer in charge of the move. "We've built a lot of roads, we've built bridges, we've dismantled bridges. You just don't see many bridges moved, maybe three or four a year on the East Coast, if bTC that many. This is a first for us."

The bridge was moved intact after the steel roadway and a 45-cubic-yard concrete counter weight were removed, Openshaw said.

Company crews finished a day ahead of schedule.

"The original idea was to dismantle the bridge, but we really were not sure that we'd have been able to put it back together," Openshaw said. "We thought we had a better way to skin a cat, and it has worked out well."

Once in place, the bridge will form an archway for visitors as they drive into an expanded parking area that will double capacity to about 175 cars and 10 buses.

The road is expected to be completed by summer.

"This has been a two-year project that we hope will make us much easier to find," said Gwyn Novak, a spokeswoman for the museum. "People will be able to use the existing Mill Street entrance, but this will give us an expanded presence. With the bridge set in place, it will give people the sense of what it was like to pass through Knapps Narrows in a boat."

The project is the largest undertaken by the museum, Novak said, surpassing the move of the Hooper Strait Lighthouse from a site on the Choptank River near Cambridge in 1966.

The lighthouse, which dates to 1879, has become the museum's principal attraction and was incorporated into the institution's logo.

While museum officials applauded the move, watermen and other residents of Tilghman Island say they would like to have the old bridge back.

After less than a month of operation, the computerized $7.7 million span has malfunctioned twice, angering motorists and commercial fishermen.

On Oct. 1, operators couldn't open the bridge, preventing a fleet of oystermen from leaving the Tilghman harbor for the first day of the shellfish season.

Two days later, the bridge stuck in the open position, causing a milelong traffic backup.

Beyond those problems, locals grouse that the new bridge is just plain slow, whether for boat traffic or cars.

"The bridge is beautiful in terms of looks and height, but people around here are up in arms," said Calvin Lewis, who owns a bait and tackle shop next to the span. "We've already had a couple big traffic backups, and next summer it's just not going to work. The old one got stuck occasionally, but it was better than 60 years old."

Pub Date: 10/08/98

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