Roadwork disruptions could get worse

Part of Rowe Boulevard to close beginning today

July 11, 2004|By Molly Knight | Molly Knight,SUN STAFF

Some Annapolis residents are calling it the perfect storm of roadwork - a confluence of construction projects with the power to clog up city streets for miles in the months to come.

Little do they know, the roadwork in this typically tranquil city has only just begun.

"From a practical standpoint, we've not yet started to affect traffic in any way," said Steve Carr, the State Highway Administration's community liaison. "It's not until later this month that things are going to get disruptive."

Yes, West Street is currently torn up. Parts of Taylor Avenue are being painted. Colonial Avenue is closed. Sidewalks are being renovated on Chesapeake Avenue and constructed on Forest Drive and Church Circle.

The list goes on - as anyone who has navigated the orange cones and detour signs dotting the city streets knows. But be warned: As of next week, this list of traffic projects - and potential inconveniences - expands with lane closures on the major thoroughfare leading into downtown Annapolis: Rowe Boulevard.

Beginning tomorrow, the right lane of northbound Rowe Boulevard at the College Creek bridge will be closed weekdays from 5 a.m. to 2 p.m. to allow crews to demolish the sidewalk and add structural supports next to the bridge. Officials want to finish this work by mid- to late August.

Two days later, motorists who travel southbound Rowe Boulevard will see another change: Traffic will be shifted toward the median at the Weems Creek bridge as crews begin tearing down the outer section to make way for a new structure. This shift won't require a lane closure.

The changes are just one part of the highway administration's ambitious $32 million project to improve Rowe Boulevard at the College Creek and Weems Creek bridges.

Built more than a half-century ago, the two bridges - which carry about 70,000 vehicles a day - have long required upgrades and reconstruction. After many years of debate over when, and how, to improve them, the State Highway Administration drafted a three-year plan, which was approved by Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. last year.

The Weems Creek bridge (the one closest to U.S. 50) will be replaced with a new, wider structure, and the College Creek span will be strengthened with a new deck.

Although local transportation officials predict the construction will create only minor inconveniences, they agree that the changes might catch motorists off guard.

"It will take folks a few days to get acclimatized," said David Buck, a spokesman for the State Highway Administration. "But we know that if you arm people with information, they tend to take it a lot better."

Last week, flashing signs reading "New Traffic Pattern" alerted drivers of the changes to come. Because the bulk of the roadwork will be done at night, Buck said, the only group that could be affected by noise are those who live near the work areas.

On Friday, while crews drilled on a site under Weems Creek bridge, Michael Houston worked on his sailboat, which was moored at the dock of his waterfront apartment complex. It's a lovely place to live, Houston said, except for one thing.

"All the noise," he said, gesturing toward the work crew. "I can't sleep with my windows open anymore."

Houston acknowledged that workers have been considerate of the community, stopping by to assess the area and warning residents of the work.

For the past two years, the State Highway Administration has been working with numerous citizens' groups, environmental experts and local business to figure out how to proceed with the project. For this reason, local business have already steeled themselves for the traffic to come, according to Bob Burdon, president of the Annapolis and Anne Arundel County Chamber of Commerce.

"The business community is prepared," Burdon said. "The city has been very supportive in finding ways in which the businesses and consumers can navigate downtown."

Burdon added that keeping the goal of the project in mind makes it easier to manage.

"Once it's all said and done, it will really help business, tourism and the residential community," he said. "It's long-term gain for short-term pains."

The project's many improvements include aesthetic treatments leading up to the State House, new sidewalks, expanded lanes large enough for bicycle travel, and the overhaul of the two historic bridges.

"These bridges are going to be absolutely drop-dead gorgeous," Carr said.

Weather permitting, the project is scheduled for completion by late summer 2006. In the meantime, Carr said: "Annapolis is still open for business - it's just not going to be a walk in the park to get here."

Construction lane closures and updates are available on the State Highway Administration's Web site at www.marylandroads.com.

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