Caution: Beltway closings ahead

Shutdown for bridge repairs to be among most extensive since I-695 was completed

  • Sections of the Beltway's inner and outer loops will be closed for repairs to a drawbridge over Curtis Creek in Southeast Baltimore.
Sections of the Beltway's inner and outer loops will be… (Baltimore Sun photo by Barbara…)
December 31, 2009|By Michael Dresser |

Parts of the Beltway will be closed during the next three months as the Maryland Transportation Authority repairs a faulty drawbridge over Curtis Creek in Southeast Baltimore, forcing some motorists to make lengthy detours to reach the Francis Scott Key Bridge.

Lane closings in connection with the project will start Monday, but a more extensive shutdown will come Jan. 9 when the entire Outer Loop will be closed in the vicinity of the bridge for about five weeks. Traffic will run in two directions on the Inner Loop. About two weeks after that phase of the project is finished, the Inner Loop will be closed for about four weeks.

The closings are among the most extensive undertaken on the Beltway since it was completed. Geoffrey Kolberg, the authority's chief engineer, said it is "very unusual" for all of the lanes of one of the loops to be shut down anywhere on the Beltway.

The Curtis Creek drawbridge is located in an industrial area on the southern edge of the city near its border with Anne Arundel County. According to Kolberg, it is one of the most lightly traveled stretches of the Beltway.

The drawbridge, which was built in the late 1970s as part of the last section of the Beltway to be opened, allows maritime traffic to pass through Curtis Creek to reach two federal installations - the U.S. Coast Guard Yard and the Defense Logistics Agency's Curtis Bay Depot.

Kolberg said the drawbridge became stuck in the up position in June and had to be pulled down before it could be opened to vehicle traffic. Since then, he said, the drawbridge has been operated at a quarter of its normal speed - and then only under intense supervision.

"We need to get it back to normal speed to minimize the amount of time it takes to open and close the bridge," Kolberg said.

The repairs involve parts of the support structure called trunnions, which Kolberg described as an axle on which the lifting mechanism turns.

"Partly, it's age. There was some corrosion," he said. "Obviously it's exposed to the weather."

Kolberg said the drawbridge is made up of four leaves - two on each Beltway loop. He said the contractor will repair the eight trunnions, each of which is 28 inches in diameter and 11 1/2 feet long.

While the repairs are being made, the southern reaches of Curtis Creek will be closed to maritime traffic. Kolberg said the repair work has been closely coordinated with the Coast Guard, which decides when to raise the drawbridge, to coincide with the yard's slowest season.

Kolberg said the drawbridge activity can vary greatly. "It can open 30 times in one month or as few as a couple of times," he said.

The lane closures will begin Monday at 9 a.m. when the authority plans to shut down the left lane of the Inner Loop between Quarantine Road and Route 10 to put down temporary pavement markings and to work on the drawbridge. That lane is expected to remain closed through Feb. 12.

Monday through Friday, from 7 p.m. to 5 a.m., that entire stretch of the Inner Loop will be closed to set up Jersey barriers. A detour will be in place.

On Jan. 7-8, next Thursday and Friday, one lane of the Outer Loop will be closed from 7 p.m. to 5 a.m. to prepare a temporary two-way traffic pattern.

Beginning Jan. 9 at 5 a.m., the Outer Loop will be closed at the bridge and traffic will be diverted to the Inner Loop, where one lane will operate in each direction. The Route 10 ramp to the Outer Loop also will be closed. Both are scheduled to reopen Feb. 8. During that period, motorists seeking to reach the Key Bridge from Route 10 will be detoured for about four miles on the westbound Beltway before they can turn around at Route 648 and head east.

In March, the authority will close the Inner Loop and run two way-traffic on the Outer Loop, Kolberg said.

Authority officials said that the traffic volumes in that section of the Beltway are light enough that they should be able to avoid significant delays except at peak travel periods. Officials said through travelers will be encouraged to use the Harbor and Fort McHenry tunnels.

Spokeswoman Teri Moss said the speed limit in the work zone will be reduced from the Beltway's normal 55 mph to 45 mph. She said oversize loads will be barred from the stretch between Quarantine Road and Route 10 while the work is under way.

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