An old and a new bridge span the Patapsco River, River Road and the CSX Railroad near the town of Sykesville. One opened last month and handles thousands of vehicles a day. The other dates to 1963 and sits idle, blocked from traffic and surrounded by newly seeded grass.
Unusable but unique, the 294-foot-long, 48-foot-wide older bridge "is staying put," said Michael Strong, the State Highway Administration's project engineer for the bridge.
The Maryland Historical Trust has deemed the 40-year-old span, with its innovative aluminum girder system, to be exceedingly rare and worthy of placement on the state's Historic Bridge Inventory. It is also nominated for the National Register of Historic Places.
Only six aluminum girder bridges were built in the United States. The one near Sykesville is the only one in Maryland.
But the aluminum girder bridge had to be replaced because of galvanic action where aluminum and steel come into contact, which caused the metal to deteriorate, state officials said.
The bridge is unsafe for vehicle traffic but safe for strolling, they said.
"We are putting up posts so no one can drive across, but nothing prevents walking across," said Jeff Roberts, a state bridge designer.
The town of Sykesville, which has a history of good stewardship of state property, is looking into what it might do with the abandoned bridge at its southern entrance, although it is technically located in Howard County.
"If anyone has any ideas what we can do with this bridge, I would be happy to champion those," said Mayor Jonathan S. Herman. "It is just sitting there looking silly alongside the other. How valuable is an aluminum girder bridge? How many people will come to Sykesville to see a bridge?"
Herman reviewed - then rejected - the few suggestions that have arrived at the Town House, seat of municipal government. A walking path that won't go anywhere beyond the 294 feet of concrete and a park and ride with no access to the highway seemed implausible.
The town has also heard a few other impractical proposals. At about 40 feet above the Patapsco River, the bridge is not high enough for bungee jumping nor is it sloped enough for skateboarding.
Since the town banned portable basketball hoops from its streets, several residents suggested pick-up games. Players would have about 14,000 square feet for lay-ups and long shots, but town officials felt those contests could distract passing cars.
And forget casting a line and fishing for trout.
"There is very little water below and a lot of big rocks," said Councilwoman Jeannie Nichols. "It is just not fishable. Perhaps somebody has an idea of what we could do, but I haven't heard it yet."
Nichols said she sees no need to preserve a deteriorating bridge that might create an eyesore at the gateway to Main Street.
Why not move it someplace where the public could see such an important structure, she asked. The state has moved a section of a historic drawbridge and displayed it at the Maritime Museum.
"It is not the architecture anyone cares about in this case, it is the building material," she said.
But the town will persist in what is all idle conjecture right now, said Herman.
In the past, the state has divested itself of property by deeding it to towns that have agreed to maintain it, including sections of roads, state officials said.
Until the state's budget crunch, the town was working on such a proposal that would allow it to take over maintenance of Main Street, also known as Route 851.
Sykesville's Gatehouse Museum was once the entry to Springfield Hospital Center, a state-owned facility for the mentally ill. The state deeded to the town nearly 100 acres with a dozen former hospital buildings that Sykesville plans to restore into a business and academic complex.
But geography could work against the town when it comes to a decision on the bridge.
The Patapsco River forms the boundary between Howard and Carroll counties. The bridge is located in Howard County, while the town lies in Carroll County.
"We can't do anything because it is not our bridge and it is not in the town," Herman said. "But we are trying to come up with a good idea."
Strong, the SHA engineer, gives the town credit for trying.
But, he added, "If there is any possible use for an old bridge, I don't know what it is."