New Havre de Grace railroad bridge needs to be special [Letter]

The study of the Amtrak bridge replacement over the Susquehanna is a critical time for citizens, elected officials, and planning departments to get deeply involved. This project will have enormous implications for the future, and if done well, could become the defining landmark of both counties, not to mention the towns that embrace it.

Folks may not realize what a profoundly difficult engineering task this will be. The new bridge must anticipate the next 100 years of rail transportation, allowing for slow and heavy freight, local commuter, high-speed inter-city, and very high speed future technologies, all requiring independent trackage in both directions to function efficiently.

The new bridge must be put in the same location as the current one, without disrupting rail traffic, blocking navigable waters, blocking the current swing-drawbridge, or severely impacting downtown Havre de Grace. It will be constrained by the Marc station and freight rail intersection located abruptly beyond the far shore, and the desire for a Marc station near downtown Havre de Grace. It will also be much wider and will require wider approaches at both ends.

This is a unique bridge location. It will define and dominate the Havre de Grace downtown and waterfront for generations. This new bridge therefore requires very special design considerations and more enhanced Federal funding.

Aesthetic and practical opportunities abound here, and should greatly outweigh the inconvenience of construction and the necessity of some property takings. Bridge technology now allows far more graceful architecture, much longer pier-to-pier spans, thinner structural lines and quieter operation. The new bridge could begin farther back into Havre de Grace, allowing a gentler and grander street entry into downtown. A much higher deck clearance would enhance the two parks underneath and open up the entire river scape.

Old stone piers from current and past railroad bridges should be removed to the riverbed to clean out clutter and improve navigation. The electrical catenary should be designed for minimal sight intrusion, using designer poles that support beautiful bridge feature lighting. The very high power lines should be run under the river, if possible. The greatest aesthetic design challenge of all will be the draw/swing structure itself.

There are a few truly stunning railroad bridges throughout the world. This one needs to join that special club. I urge citizens to attend all presentations on this project and to push hardest of all for beauty and magnificence.

Volney H. Ford

Havre de Grace

The writer is chairman of the Havre de Grace Planning Commission and a self-described "ardent rail fan."

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