Officials: Aging bridges in N. Balto. Co. must be replaced

Bridges are safe for now; three will be rebuilt and the fourth refurbished

December 03, 2010|By Mary Gail Hare, The Baltimore Sun

Four World-War-I-era bridges in northern Baltimore County have become so outmoded that they no longer meet safety and structural guidelines and must be replaced, officials said.

The concrete structures, built more than 80 years ago, span Little Falls, a creek along Gores Mill Road in Freeland. Three bridges will be completely reconstructed and the fourth will be restored. In the meantime, motorists can rely on the structures, officials said. The county is seeking community input before the $2.5 million project moves forward.

Design and construction will be based on national standards for rural roads. Those guidelines typically require widening of the bridges and the roads approaching them, said David Fidler, spokesman for the county Public Works Department.

"These bridges were built for an entirely different kind of traffic," Fidler said. "We now have fire equipment and trash collection trucks that need much different roads specifications than were around in the 1920s."

Construction will likely not begin until early 2014. The project will receive 80 percent of its funding from federal sources.

Many rural residents see widened roadways as an invitation to more traffic.

"We have done such a good job controlling growth in northern Baltimore County, and ideally, we would like to see these bridges kept at the same width," said Teresa Moore, executive director of the Valleys Planning Council, a local land preservation group. "Winding narrow roads help keep traffic at a slower pace, and a bridge can actually help as a traffic calmer. We don't want to give drivers a wider expanse and cause problems for farm equipment, bicyclists and horseback riders."

Moore said the federal guidelines are based on highway standards and should not apply to local, little-used roads. Average traffic on Gores Mill is light, fewer than 180 vehicles a day, Fidler said. Fewer than 7,000 people live in the Freeland area.

While aesthetics and quality of life are taken into consideration, public works officials must focus more attention on safety issues and ensuring structural integrity of bridges, he said.

Engineers will report Tuesday on the present condition of the bridges, which are inspected at least every two years. Two of the four have posted weight limits.

"All our bridges are carefully monitored," Fidler said.

Consultants will also unveil construction plans at the meeting set for 6 p.m. at Prettyboy Elementary School, 19810 Middletown Road in Freeland.

"We are interested in getting the word out about this project and keeping residents informed," he said. "We want their input."

More information is available at 410-887-2171.

mary.gail.hare@baltsun.com

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