Plan to replace Beltway bridge over Wilkens Avenue in August will take two years and cost $13 million

July 18, 2011

Residents may encounter traffic delays as the Maryland State Highway begins a scheduled bridge replacement at Interstate 695 (Baltimore Beltway) and Wilkens Avenue next month, an official says.

The $13 million project will take about two years and include ramp relocations and temporary lane closures on the Beltway, according to Fran Ward, SHA community liaison for Baltimore and Harford counties.

"You'll always have access in all directions. You just may have to go a slightly different way to get there," said Ward during a July 13 open house the SHA hosted at Halethorpe Elementary School..

The 55-year-old bridge carries the four northbound lanes of the Inner Loop over Wilkens Avenue.

In 2004, the SHA replaced the Outer Loop bridge over Wilkens Avenue as part of its project to widen the Outer Loop of I-695 to four lanes between Frederick Road and I-95.

The new Inner Loop bridge will have the same design and appearance without any lane widening, according to a release.

Starting next month, the existing Inner Loop bridge over Wilkens Avenue will be demolished and replaced in three stages of construction work.

All four through lanes on the Inner Loop and two through lanes on Wilkens Avenue will remain open during peak weekday travel hours during construction.

Ramps from the Inner Loop to westbound and eastbound Wilkens Avenue will be closed and detoured at various times during construction.

SHA will install a temporary traffic signal at the intersection of Wilkens and Kenwood Avenues to manage traffic during the alternating ramp closures.

The project also includes widening a small portion of Wilkens Avenue to make it more accessible for bicycles, upgrading roadway lighting at the interchange to increase safety and adding lighting underneath the bridge, according to a release.

Only seven people stopped by the open house at the school, which was scheduled to run from 5:30 to 7 p.m., to look at project diagrams and ask questions.

In addition to 10 representatives from the SHA, 1st District Councilman Tom Quirk, who represents Catonsville and Arbutus, and state Dels. Jimmy Malone and Steve DeBoy, who represent District 12A that includes Catonsville and Arbutus, also attended the event.

Jean and Jeff Smith, who live on Wilkens Avenue near the bridge, came to learn more about the bicycle area and the traffic signal.

"It was fine," Jean Smith said about the open house. "Our questions were answered."

She said she would like SHA to make the temporary traffic signal permanent.

"People have gotten seriously hurt," she said, referring to accidents at the site in the past. "It happens over and over."

But Ward said the stoplight would only be a temporary measure.

Michael McAuliffe, president of the Halethorpe Improvement Association, said he decided to attend because he knows residents of his community travel through that area.

"I think it's a great idea," he said. "If it mimics the other bridge -- the Outer Loop that they expanded several years ago – it'll be a great project."

"I think they did a great job on the widening of the bridges and the Beltway from Frederick Road down," he said. "You can definitely see that the congestion ends at Frederick Road where it widens.

"Though, of course, I understand that they're not widening the Beltway at this time. But it's great that they're thinking about future widening in the fact that the bridge is wider," he said.

McAuliffe said he is not concerned about traffic during the bridge construction.

"I've seen other projects around the Beltway where they've been replacing bridges and, really, it's caused almost no snarling in the traffic at all," he said, referring to the bridge project at Liberty Road.

In addition to the bridge at Wilkens Avenue, the SHA is also managing construction projects on the Inner and Outer Loop bridges over Liberty Road and the Frederick Road bridge over I-695.

Because the Wilkens Avenue project is close to the Frederick Road bridge replacement construction, Ward said that the two different contractors for the projects will work together to maintain "a continuous and predictable flow of traffic through both interchanges."

She said the availability of funding was a main reason for why the highway administration is tackling several area bridge projects at the same time.

"These bridges are all in the vicinity of 50 years old," she said. "They're nearing the end of their useful life.

"They need to be replaced now so that we don't have structural problems with them later," she said.

The bridge over Wilkens Avenue was built in 1956 and widened in 1963, according to the SHA.

Most of the bridges along I-695 are more than 50 years old, dating to the original construction of the Baltimore Beltway.

For information about bridge construction projects along I-695, call SHA's District Four Office at 410-229-2300, toll-free at 1-866-998-0367 or email shadistrict4@sha.state.md.us.

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