Colors are a bridge to the city

The Spa Creek span's makeover was inspired by a local plant.

August 10, 2005|By Jamie Stiehm | Jamie Stiehm,SUN STAFF

Goodbye to pool-blue paint on the Spa Creek Bridge and all that goes with faded aqua. Hello to two startling new shades just starting to pop up from under tarpaulins on the bridge that connects Annapolis' City Dock area to Eastport.

Violet red and light green - or aubergine and olive - are the hues that people will see on the side rails and lamp posts.

Under the 14-span concrete and steel bridge, a $1 million state-funded sandblasting, lead-removal and painting job is going on, on a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week schedule by a family-owned Baltimore company. When the work is done - scheduled for December - the 1946 bridge will be transformed, city officials say.

In a city that cherishes its charm and good looks, the span between two vibrant districts was a tempting target for exterior redecoration. The bridge is well-traveled on foot, by bike, in cars and in SUVs. In the summer, thousands of sailboats pass under when the center span opens.

David Buck, a spokesman for the State Highway Administration, which is directing the repainting project, said a major inch-by-inch job happens rarely, often only every 40 years in the life of a bridge, if ever. Buck said this was the first time the Spa Creek Bridge has received such comprehensive treatment. Last year, the concrete deck - the sidewalks and road - was resurfaced at a cost of $920,000. The entire bridge was also closed for repairs for about three weeks in 1998.

Given a rare chance to coat the Spa Creek Bridge in new colors, Annapolis public works Director Margaret B. Martin said she was inspired by the hyacinth bean vine, which features both the rich reddish-purple color and the olive green. The vine, she said, grows on Green Street and elsewhere in the city's historic district.

"Nature does a nice job with color coordination," Martin said. "I wanted to do something different with our public infrastructure, given a chance to do something beautiful.

"We matched the leaf colors as closely as possible," she said.

Weather windows

Sam Brice, a civil engineer for the city, said the seven-month job involves closing the bridge to vehicular traffic from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. several nights this month. The "tips and tails" of the bridge have to be painted when the draw structure is open, he said as he walked along the work site's scaffolding. "There are very narrow weather windows," Brice said, noting that this summer's humidity and rain have limited work, at times causing shutdowns of construction. "So they have to use and go [around the clock] in good weather."

The huge barge under the bridge's draw, Brice said, is used to contain barrels of lead - now prohibited in paint products - that has been removed. With about half of the spans stripped of lead, about 25 barrels have been collected for hazardous waste disposal.

The city engineer said the repainting is not just for looks, but is essential for bridge maintenance.

"There is no inspector better than a painter," Brice said, noting that painters detect corrosion, rust and structural weakness as they cover each square foot of a bridge's surface and underpinning.

Michael Forakis, the 25-year-old president of Titan Industrial Services, said he oversees a 12-hour day shift, then his father watches over a 12-hour night shift. Each has a five-man crew. After blasting the bridge's surface down to metal, he said, workers apply three coats, starting with a layer of zinc primer.

He said the unusual setting keeps him mindful that they are working close to the public, the waterfront and the tony Annapolis Yacht Club.

Accustomed to working high on the one-tone silvery Bay Bridge, he said, the new Annapolis colors came as a change.

Public approval

"But when we uncovered them [Sunday] in public, ladies rolled down their car windows and told us it looked beautiful," Forakis said.

Forakis said his crews have done some concrete patching, but overall, he said, "The bridge is in very good shape."

Buck, the State Highway Administration spokesman, said the agency reviews community bridge color choices and generally approves them if they reflect a consensus.

"We look for whether the colors stay within the character of the community," Buck said. "Suffice it to say, this was a very diverse, passionate group of people. And more and more, we depart from saying, `Hey, here it is,' when it comes to color."

Visitor's view

Bob Sanderlin, a visitor from Charleston, S.C., said the new colors reminded him of the historic districts of Annapolis and of Charleston, where he paints houses for a living.

"They're classic," he said.

But Vrej Zarikian, a newcomer to Annapolis, walked to the bridge without noticing the new touch. Slated to teach math at the U.S. Naval Academy when classes start in a few weeks, Zarikian said, "I'm fairly indifferent ... as long as the bridge doesn't collapse."

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