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Catonsville’s new River Road Bridge opens two years after flood destroyed old one

River Road Bridge has officially reopened to vehicle traffic, two years after it was destroyed during the historic flooding that tore through Catonsville, Oella and Ellicott City, leaving millions of dollars worth of damage to homes and public infrastructure in its wake.

The bridge along River Road over a tributary of the Patapsco River has been replaced by a 36-foot-long, 11-foot-high bridge made of a precast concrete arch with cast-in-place end walls, and has a slightly wider roadway for motorists. Open traffic railings along the bridge will function as parapets to prevent users from falling off.

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The foundations of the new bridge have been lowered and “keyed into” rock strata to better withstand erosion, said Kevin Sabolcik, chief of engineering structures in the Baltimore County Department of Public Works.

The previous bridge, a single span concrete slab bridge set on two stone and concrete abutments, had been damaged beyond repair by the Memorial Day flooding two years ago, with its east abutment partially collapsed.

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The county is seeking reimbursement from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to cover 75% of the costs associated with the replacement, estimated at $1.8 million. The final cost, which includes construction, engineering and utility relocation, is still being determined, Sabolcik said.

The county is eligible to receive up to 75% in federal reimbursement under the Federal Disaster Declaration for the May 2018 flooding, which killed a Maryland National Guardsman, Staff Sgt. Eddison Hermond Jr., and left one home in Catonsville temporarily unsafe for habitation.

The bridge replacement is one of the final pieces of reconstruction efforts in the wake of the 2018 flood. Its construction began in mid-July last year, and was initially expected to be completed by the end of 2019. Construction finished in mid-June 2020.

The bridge often was used by bicyclists who frequent paths along the Patapsco River watershed and Patapsco Valley State Park, and is a “key connection for our bike trails,” said Charlie Murphy, an avid cyclist and board member of Rails to Trails in Catonsville, a nonprofit that repurposes old rail lines into walkable trails.

Murphy had planned to organize a biking party across River Road Bridge after its completion as a “grand opening ride,” but due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, Murphy said it’s difficult for large groups of cyclists to maintain the 6-foot distance from each other recommended by health experts.

Murphy said he’d like to do the ride across the new bridge once the pandemic subsides “just to get the community back together again.”

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