Few would argue that the Weems Creek Bridge - a 50-year-old span that's often called the gateway to Annapolis - needs to be replaced.
But the State Highway Administration and residents are at odds over the width of a new bridge to carry motorists on Rowe Boulevard into the historic center of the state capital.
Last year, state officials decided to replace the bridge rather than to refurbish it. The proposed new bridge would feature sidewalks and bicycle lanes and would have a wider median strip that could be turned into a fifth lane.
The new bridge, which would be built 6 feet from the old one, would be 20 feet wider than the existing one. Residents are concerned about what this difference would mean for the trees near the bridge. They're also worried that it would draw even more vehicles to an already busy stretch.
Local legislators recently voiced their concerns about the proposal to the Maryland Department of Transportation. In a letter to Neil Pedersen, department administrator for planning and engineering for the SHA, lawmakers urged the state to consider a different design. They want the bicycle lanes to be reconsidered, and would like a median consistent with "the theme of Rowe Boulevard" and "preservation of the magnificent foliage on both sides of Rowe Boulevard."
State officials have agreed to consider other options.
"We're just in a much better place with the SHA," said Annapolis Mayor Ellen O. Moyer, a critic of the original bridge design.
The state is considering removing the bicycle lanes from the plan. Evan Belaga, a member of the Weems Creek Conservancy and of Annapolis' environmental transition team, noted there are bicycle lanes one block away on Ridgely Avenue, which parallels Rowe Boulevard. He said extending bicycle lanes along Rowe Boulevard to the U.S. 50 underpass would be "inviting disaster."
For some, the possibility of a fifth lane of traffic remains a concern.
There are currently no plans to add a fifth lane, but the SHA wants to preserve that option should additional capacity be needed on Rowe Boulevard. The fifth lane would only be opened after a planning study with public comment, and if the Anne Arundel County executive, County Council and legislative delegation made it a priority, state officials said.
Annapolis Alderman Sheila M. Tolliver said the community opposes any proposal that widens the bridge, saying it would be "counter to good planning."
"I've heard a lot about this issue. People feel very strongly about it," she said, adding that "there just isn't a backup on Rowe Boulevard of any consequence" to justify widening.
Tolliver said that the lawmakers who wrote the state should have come out against the planned median and that she's "still concerned about the capacity built in for traffic on this bridge."
About 40,000 vehicles cross the bridge each day.
Moyer said the letter outlined broad concepts. "This is the design of the gateway into the city and here are the things we need to consider," she said.
The SHA investigated the possibility of routing traffic to other roads during construction, but decided that was not possible. State officials determined that Ridgely Avenue, Aris T. Allen Boulevard, Forest Drive and West Street could not handle additional traffic and are already congested during rush hour.
Construction would require the acquisition of private land. Pedersen said he did not know how much.
No cost estimates were available. Pedersen said the project will be funded with state and federal funds and that the goal is to begin construction by the spring of 2004.