Old bridge poses puzzle

Planning: Baltimore County seeks creative ideas for a Loch Raven Reservoir span.

January 09, 2000|By Liz Atwood | Liz Atwood,SUN STAFF

A new bridge soon will span the Loch Raven Reservoir at Paper Mill Road, giving drivers a safer commute through Hunt Valley, but leaving Baltimore County officials stumped over what to do with the 78-year-old bridge it will replace.

Baltimore City owns the old bridge -- part of the reservoir watershed -- and will give it to the county when the new span opens in May.

There were plans to dedicate the old structure to a recreational use, making it part of a hiking or biking trail, or even using it as a fishing pier.

But all of those options present problems, said J. Craig Forrest, director of transportation planning for the Baltimore County Department of Public Works.

"It presents us with an opportunity," Forrest said. "We just have to be creative enough to figure out what."

For now, work continues on the $11.5 million replacement span, which will cost more than the original Loch Raven Reservoir project. Workers have built an eastbound lane across the reservoir but have not completed the westbound lane. Cranes have started to erect two 99-foot steel arches designed to complement the distinctive steel frame of the old bridge.

The new bridge is 669 feet long and wider than the old one to make traveling safer for the 10,000 motorists who will use it each day. In addition to the two traffic lanes, a pedestrian walkway will be included. Support pillars were not sunk in the water because of strict environmental regulations.

Baltimore decided several years ago to replace the old bridge, which had become expensive to maintain. It was closed for repairs for several months in 1990. When it reopened, a 3-ton weight restriction was imposed that forces the county's heaviest firetrucks to detour around the bridge when responding to calls.

After listening to community groups and preservationists, the city opted to give the old span to Baltimore County. The question now is what to do with it.

Opening the bridge to hikers and bikers presents a problem because the bridge empties onto Paper Mill Road, a narrow, busy thoroughfare. The roadway's open steel grates also could present a safety hazard, Forrest said.

Turning the bridge into a fishing pier seemed like a good idea, until officials realized the bridge is 99 feet above the water -- a long way to reel in a fishing line.

Any new uses also raise liability and parking questions.

Forrest said there is little doubt that the county will preserve the old bridge, which is covered with flaking gray paint. Its design and history make it eligible for the National Register of Historic Places.

Distinctive design

The bridge was built for $110,969.50 in 1922, when the city raised the dam at Loch Raven Reservoir to increase the supply of drinking water. The steel was forged by the Bethlehem Steel Bridge Corp. in Steelton, Pa. Designed by Herschel Hethcote Allen, a principal in the John Greiner Co. engineering firm, it was modeled after Hell Gate Bridge over the East River in New York.

Although other steel bridges were built in the area, including one that crosses the reservoir at Warren Road, the Paper Mill Road bridge was distinctive because of its design connection to the New York bridge.

Meeting planned

Forrest said the county recognizes the bridge's importance and will erect a plaque to explain its significance.

County officials will meet with community groups and elected officials in the spring to try to develop a plan and possibly seek state aid to develop the bridge for recreational use.

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