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Public forum on Susquehanna rail bridge replacement scheduled for March 26

Members of the public will have the opportunity next week during a community forum at the Havre de Grace Community Center to learn the latest developments in the ongoing project to replace Amtrak's aging Susquehanna River Rail Bridge, plus talk with members of the project team, officials from Cecil and Harford counties and members of a regional advisory board working with the project team,

The forum will be March 26 from 6 p.m. to 9 at the community center at 100 Lagaret Lane, City Councilman Steve Gamatoria announced during a council meeting Monday.

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Gamatoria and his fellow members of the eight-person Susquehanna River Rail Bridge Project Advisory Board will participate in the forum, along with representatives of Amtrak and the MARC commuter rail service.

He said the event is designed "to give everybody an opportunity to hear what is to come, some of the thoughts put into it and also for [community] input."

Volney Ford, chairman of the advisory board, said Tuesday the event will be "operated like an open house."

Ford, who is also the head of the Havre de Grace Planning Commission, said members of the public can go in and out at any time during the forum. Attendees will be able to interact with members of the advisory board and project team in small groups or one-on-one.

"It's going to be an interaction between the elected officials and our board and the Planning Commission, so we can basically share ideas," he explained.

Ford said officials want to "draw ideas and recommendations" for the project from public comments.

"It is also intended to inform the public as much as we possibly can on the project and the advisories we have issued to date," he said of the forum.

The rail bridge, which was built in 1906 and spans the Susquehanna River between Havre de Grace and Perryville, is a key segment of Amtrak's Northeast Corridor serving the northeastern U.S.

Amtrak officials, as well as officials with the multiple federal, state and local agencies with a stake in the project, are in the midst of a lengthy process of engineering, design, environmental assessments and seeking public input that began in 2013 and is expected to last through 2017.

Project updates can be found online at http://www.susrailbridge.com.

The regional advisory board, established last fall by the Havre de Grace City Council, includes representatives of agencies and businesses in Cecil and Harford counties, who have either an interest or expertise in railroads, bridge design and maintenance, marine traffic and emergency response.

"We wanted to basically find people who could contribute the most in terms of expertise," said Ford, who described himself as a "rail fan," or railroad hobbyist.

Other members include Gamatoria, who is also a long-serving member of the Susquehanna Hose Company; Jeff Andrews, general manger of the Tidewater Marina in Havre de Grace; Steve Gorski, a civil engineer with the firm Duffield Associates Inc., which has a branch in Havre de Grace; Cecil County resident Chuck Lilley, a retired maintenance supervisor for the I-95 Millard E. Tydings Memorial Bridge and Route 40 Thomas J. Hatem Memorial Bridge – two highway bridges that also span the river between Havre de Grace and Perryville; Shawn Oliver, a marine operations manager with the Vulcan Materials Co., which operates a quarry in Havre de Grace; retired Harford County Circuit Court Judge Emory Plitt, a Havre de Grace resident and rail enthusiast, and Perryville Town Commission Ray Ryan, an emergency response instructor for Harford County, according to Ford.

"So far, we've gained the full attention of Amtrak, and we've gained the full attention of the Maryland Transportation Authority and MARC," Ford said. "We're working very closely with them, and they have embraced a lot of our recommendations, and we have an excellent working relationship."

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