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Baker Ave. neighborhoods in Abingdon reconnected with new footbridge

A new aluminum pedestrian bridge officially opened Monday connecting Baker Avenue in Long Bar Harbor. The new bridge replaced a wooden one built by then resident George Vojtech in 1970 for his Eagle Scout project.

Two neighborhoods along sections of Baker Avenue in Abingdon have been reunited thanks to a sturdy new aluminum footbridge erected to replace the deteriorating wooden structure constructed nearly 50 years ago for an Eagle Scout project.

“I’m very happy to be part of the history of this,” said George Vojtech Jr., 61, who led construction of an earlier bridge for his Eagle Scout service project in 1970. He attended a dedication ceremony for the new bridge Monday, joined by Harford County Executive Barry Glassman, neighborhood residents, County Councilman Curtis Beulah and county public works and parks and recreation staff.

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The bridge spans a small stream valley separating East Baker Avenue and Baker Avenue in the Long Bar Harbor community along the Bush River. It gives people who live on the west end of Baker access to the rest of Baker Avenue on the east end, and vice-versa. Otherwise, they would have to drive or walk over a mile via Longley and Long Bar Harbor roads.

In June 2016, Harford County’s Department of Public Works ordered the wooden bridge Vojtech had built be closed, citing safety concerns, according to county government spokesperson Cindy Mumby.

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Research by county government discovered the Vojtech bridge was actually the second span across the stream, Mumby said Friday. An earlier span of unknown origin and date, was falling apart when Vojtech designed and built his bridge 47 years ago, she said.

The new 90-foot-long, 5-foot-wide aluminum structure, which was designed to last 50 to 100 years, was designed and built for $100,000, according to county officials.

it is wide enough for two people to cross side by side, and the sides of the truss-style bridge form safety railings. It is accessible for bicyclists and pedestrians, according to Mumby.

The county departments of public works and parks and recreation worked together on the project, she said.

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DPW Director Joseph Siemek said closing the old bridge “was very difficult for us to do but unfortunately, entirely necessary,” because of the “wear and tear” from frequent use.

He said area residents had offered to replace the bridge, possibly through Eagle projects, but environmental regulations made that too challenging.

“We looked for some creative ways and some effective ways to be able to provide a new pedestrian bridge,” Siemek explained.

The new bridge was designed in house by Dan Svrjcek, a civil engineer with DPW, and erected in-house by county bridge maintenance workers, Jeffrey Stratmeyer, chief engineer with the county's Transportation Division, said during the dedication ceremony.

Svrjcek, who has worked for the county for about 30 years, volunteered to take on the design work after the county received a quote of $100,000 for design work alone, Stratmeyer said. The department had budgeted $100,000 for the entire project, including a 30-foot-long bridge, he said.

Svrjcek had to deal with environmental constraints such as poor soils and working in a tidal wetland area. Those constraints meant the bridge was lengthened to 90 feet, which increased construction costs above budget, Stratmeyer said.

Once again they looked in-house, turning to DPW's bridge maintenance staff.

"They welcomed the challenge and took it on themselves," Stratmeyer said.

He recalled hearing a "sigh of relief from a lot of people" when the bridge was placed on its supports using a crane.

"They did an awesome job," Stratmeyer said.

Glassman thanked the county staffers, with "special thanks" to Svrjcek for taking on the design work. He estimated the county saved about $50,000 by doing the project in-house.

“It’s a small project that we completed, but I think it reflects to how we approach all the projects in Harford County,” Glassman said. “We work together, we do it in the most cost-effective manner, but we also do it to protect the quality of life here for the community, whether it’s 100 people or 200,000 people.”

Svrjeck said later that the neighbors played a key role in getting the project accomplished, such as allowing county vehicles to be parked along the street and in yards and allowing workers to assemble the bridge in a driveway.

“We listened to the community, and they told us how important it was to keep this bridge in place,” Glassman said. “We put a new bridge here for new generations to enjoy.”

The county executive told Vojtech that the new bridge will "certainly carry on the spirit" of his Eagle project.

Vojtech, the son of Emily and George Vojtech Sr., grew up on East Baker across from the Bush River Yacht Club. As children, he and his friends played in the woods around the unnamed stream, which they knew as "the ravine."

The stream flows south to the river from the small William Longley Park where Longley and Long Bar Harbor roads join south of Route 40.

They had to carry their bikes to get them from one side to the other, since they only had an "old decrepit bridge" nearby, Vojtech said.

"This just made sense," he said of building a new bridge.

Vojtech was a member of Boy Scout Troop 937. His mother was a school secretary, and his father was a machinist and head of the machine shop at Bata Shoe Co. in Belcamp.

His father's employer donated most of the wood used in construction, which was during the summer of 1970. Vojtech said he and three other boys built the bridge, including his younger brother, Richard, who later became an Eagle Scout.

The bridge enhanced the community "tremendously" once completed, Vojtech recalled.

He and his friends could ride across on their bikes, and residents used it when taking walks or walking their dogs.

"It tied the neighborhood together," he said.

Vojtech and his wife, Patty Kaczmarek, live in Cambridge on the Eastern Shore, where they run an electronics company, Eastcor Engineering, hich is in Easton.

Vojtech previously spent more than 20 years working for Johns Hopkins University's Applied Physics Laboratory. His son, George III, is a computer engineer.

"I never had any idea it would last this long," he said of his wooden bridge.

A few neighbors attended Monday's ceremony.

Mike and Sheila Scheuerman, who own a small riverfront summer house they call the "Shore Shack" off west Baker Avenue, said they were glad to see a new footbridge. The couple lives in Abingdon.

“It's definitely good for walkers, bikers and walking the dog, just connecting the [community],” Sheila Scheuerman said.

Mike Scheuerman said he sees joggers and dog walkers in the area during the summer.

“It makes a nice loop around the neighborhood,” he said of the bridge.

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