Rebuilt Potee St. bridge opens

Construction not yet finished on span


Thump, thump.

The sounds of motorists rattling their front ends while cruising the once pothole-ridden Potee Street bridge are no more.

The South Baltimore overpass spanning the Patapsco River has reopened after a project to rebuild the bridge that lasted more than two years and cost $18 million in federal and local funds.

The bridge opened last week, two months ahead of schedule, project managers said Friday. Crews still have some work to do, but officials decided to open the span to ease traffic congestion. During the construction, motorists had been rerouted onto adjacent Hanover Street, which was turned into a two-way road.

"We opened two lanes [of Potee Street] for southbound traffic and did that to mitigate the traffic congestion heading out of the city," said Robert Powers, chief of engineering and construction for the city's Department of Transportation.

Transportation officials said the bridge will be open as construction concludes, but it may have temporary closures.

"We may have to set up detour routes during certain periods, but we will keep it open during peak hours to alleviate congestion in the district," said David Brown, a Transportation Department spokesman.

Over the next few weeks, work crews will continue paving and adding curbs and lighting, Powers said

The bridge -- named after John Potee, a Baltimore sheriff in the 1920s who lived on Hanover Street -- will officially be reopened in November.

The old Potee Street bridge, which opened in 1951 at a cost of $1.4 million, was demolished to make way for the current 1,700-foot concrete span. When complete, the new bridge will have three lanes for traffic, a bicycle lane and sidewalks to be shared by pedestrians and crabbers, Powers said.

Motorists who used the bridge last Monday -- after construction barriers were unexpectedly removed -- were surprised and relieved. Some remembered a few infamous potholes and the damage caused to their vehicles. They had dealt with bad roads and then the disruptive construction project.

"Years ago, I drove my new pickup truck over one of those potholes, and the speedometer got stuck," said Mike Carrigan, an automotive technician for a South Baltimore car repair shop.

"That bridge used to be full of potholes and just not safe," said Frank Whay, the shop's owner.

But the improvements work. "It's much better now," Carrigan said.

City Councilman Edward L. Reisinger, chairman of the Land Use and Transportation Committee, who represents the district where the bridge is located, said not a day went by in which people failed to ask about the Potee Street bridge.

"For about six or seven years, I would get complaints about the bridge and its potholes," Reisinger said, adding that he, too, had navigated around potholes on his travels across the aged span.

Even construction couldn't stop the criticism. Reisinger held community meetings, and the daily phone calls to his office persisted.

"Then, it was the question of, `When is it going to be completed?'"

Now that the bridge has reopened, Reisinger said, people seem placated. The calls about the Potee Street bridge have decreased, but a new matter rings familiar.

"Now, they are asking about the next one -- they are asking about repairs on the Hanover Street bridge," Reisinger said.

Sun researcher Paul McCardell contributed to this article.

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