Consultants hired by the city recommended spending $50 million to rehabilitate the century-old Hanover Street Bridge, reducing it to four lanes and adding walking-and-bicycling paths on each side.
The plan, announced Tuesday night at a public meeting in South Baltimore, would fortify the pothole-ridden bridge — a vital link over the Patapsco River between the city and its Brooklyn and Cherry Hill neighborhoods and the port of Baltimore.
It also would end the drawbridge's ability to open, a move that would require Coast Guard approval. It's been years since the bridge has needed to lift for maritime commerce.
The bridge's deck, including the drawbridge's metal grating, would be covered with concrete, creating a smoother ride and saving the city money on annual maintenance, according to AECOM, the engineering firm that produced the study.
The city has not decided whether to fix the bridge and funding is by no means assured. Tuesday night's meeting was the first opportunity to share the recommendation with the public. Another meeting will be held May 30 at MedStar Harbor Hospital.
In the short term, the city Department of Transportation plans to spend $400,000 to lay asphalt across the bridge this summer, following calls by City Councilmen Eric Costello and Ed Reisinger for the bridge to be "re-decked immediately."
Any rehabilitation of the bridge likely would require the city to seek federal funding, which is never a sure bet, cautioned Valerie LaCour, planning chief at the Department of Transportation.
"We could be as far out as seven to 10 years, if we're lucky," LaCour told a dozen or so area residents who attended Tuesday night's public meeting at the hospital.
The AECOM study was funded by a $1.1 million federal grant and $700,000 from the city. It is one of several analyses being done in the area near Under Armour founder Kevin Plank's planned $5.5 billion waterfront development, Port Covington.
A separate draft environmental impact study will be presented at a pair of meetings, on April 25 and 28, by the city Department of Transportation and the Maryland Transportation Authority, which are coordinating an Interstate 95 Access Study at Port Covington.
The Hanover Bridge study also suggested spending up to another $28 million for several pedestrian-friendly improvements: new stairways from the bridge level to the water level, enhanced lighting, cleared vegetation, re-painted crosswalks and removed high-speed right turns, including one just north of the bridge from northbound Hanover Street onto eastbound Cromwell Street.
Renderings in the study showed murals and pedestrian spaces under the bridge.
In terms of cost, the long-term repair recommendation is the middle option of three rehabilitation choices the firm laid out, said Josh Crunkleton, AECOM's engineer for the project.
"That's probably the biggest factor, the cost savings," he said.
Fixing up the concrete and leaving the drawbridge grates exposed would cost $30 million, Crunkleton said. Repairing the concrete and the grates so that they still can lift would cost $70 million.
The study recommended using concrete for the long-term rehabilitation project, as it is less susceptible to damage from the large number of freight trucks that pass over it daily on the way in and out of the port of Baltimore, Crunkleton said.
Rhonda Simms, 51, who lives on Reedbird Avenue in Cherry Hill, said she is worried that narrowing the bridge to four lanes could make it more difficult for emergency vehicles to pass on their way to Harbor Hospital.
They often use the middle lane of the five-lane bridge, she said, which follows the direction of rush-hour traffic.
"That allows emergency vehicles a pathway," Simms said. "If you take that away, what is the contingency plan?"
Crunkleton responded that engineers would consult with first responders as part of the study's second phase. He said a four-lane bridge would handle projected traffic levels just as well as a more expensive, six-lane alternative.
Brandon Bryant, 36, said his grandfather, James Bryant, was among the original laborers who built the bridge.
The Cherry Hill man, who owns BEvelop, an educational nonprofit for children, is concerned with the bridge's history, but also with its future. He said the city needs to make sure it incorporates offerings for children in any design plans.
"I like the preservation of the mechanical pieces," he said, "however, I also understand the cost and functionality" requirements.