Rebuilding Annapolis bridges

The multimillion-dollar project to rehabilitate two of Rowe Boulevard spans will start its next phase tonight, and despite earlier concerns, residents have only experienced minor annoyances.

February 27, 2005|By Childs Walker | Childs Walker,SUN STAFF

The metal behemoths, each as heavy as 25 elephants and strong enough to pound steel tubes 90 feet into the ground, have hovered over the gateway to Maryland's capital for 10 months, their long necks almost as familiar a sight to commuters as the State House dome.

Annapolis has a reputation for quaintness, but with two of its bridges undergoing serious rehabilitation, the Colonial town has grown used to having cranes fill its skyline. Roaring jackhammers and orange traffic barriers round out the construction milieu.

State highway officials are plowing ahead with a $33 million rehabilitation of the two 50-year-old bridges on Rowe Boulevard, the main route into town. They are demolishing and replacing the Weems Creek Bridge, located off U.S. 50, and they are replacing all but the base of the College Creek Bridge, which runs to the edge of the city's historic downtown. Both bridges will still have four lanes, but they will be wider. Construction is expected to go on until late next year.

The project is scheduled to enter a new phase tonight. For the next month, two 165-ton cranes will extend across Rowe Boulevard on weeknights, laying the 128-foot, 65,000-pound steel beams that will support the new roadway across Weems Creek. The steel will sit atop 7,500 cubic yards of concrete that has been poured and molded into the columns that will anchor the bridge to the creek bed.

"We're really about to reach some milestone points," said David Buck, a spokesman for the State Highway Association.

Though the bridges are small and hardly feel like interruptions to the regular roadway, neighbors and officials approached the replacement project, first discussed in the mid-1990s, with some trepidation.

Community groups worried about traffic, noise and construction runoff into the creeks, which flow into the Severn River and the Chesapeake Bay.

Officials saw a potential logistical nightmare, especially after a state inspector said the Weems Creek span needed to be replaced entirely.

Workers would have to tear down the bridge and build a new one while keeping four lanes of traffic open on the busy artery. They would have to do it in a cramped space that makes even routine delivery of materials - not to mention heavy crane work - difficult. And they would have to maintain good relations with neighbors who expect quiet at night and are highly attuned to any environmental disturbance.

"It is a hard project," said Tim Fletcher, supervising engineer for the bridge rehabilitation. "I guess the toughest thing is that there's no room. It's hard to maneuver. It's hard to get anything in or out."

Highway officials say they have gone out of their way to address community concerns. They meet with neighborhood leaders every month, brief Annapolis Mayor Ellen O. Moyer weekly and keep a detailed log of complaints about everything from noise to potholes.

"We all know who to call when something happens," said Margaret Martin, the city's director of public works. Martin said she was especially worried about traffic when the projects were announced.

"But we haven't noticed any backup," she said. "Everybody kept waiting, saying, `Here's the construction, now where's the drama?' But there really hasn't been any."

Neighborhood leaders said they have noticed some minor nuisances - several mentioned bright lights at night - but agreed that highway officials have been helpful.

"There have been a few specific concerns, but they've always been addressed," said Marianne Wood, who represents the Kirkley Road neighborhood that sits beside the Weems Creek Bridge. "I frankly haven't heard any real complaints about the overall work."

With the cranes moving steel overnight, noise could become more of a nuisance during the next several weeks, officials said.

"They're heavy machines," said Steve Carr, the community liaison for the highway department. "There's only so much you can do."

Because it's being replaced completely, the Weems Creek Bridge is the more elaborate and costlier part of the project.

During a recent trip under the bridge, it wasn't hard to tell why state officials said it needed to be replaced. Long, jagged cracks lined most of the concrete support columns, and in some spots, chunks of concrete had broken loose.

Last year, construction crews built a temporary dock and from it, used barges to float cranes into Weems Creek. Using the cranes, they moved 18-inch-wide hollow steel pipes into place and pounded them 20 to 90 feet into the creek bed with diesel-powered hydraulic hammers. Workers then filled the pipes with concrete, forming the support base for the new bridge.

Once the steel for the bridge deck is in place in about a month, crews will begin pouring more concrete to form the roadway. By summer, state officials hope to have traffic flowing both ways on the new bridge, which will be west of the current span.

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