In about 10 years, at a cost of more than $1 billion and after one of the biggest construction projects in Harford County history, city officials say Havre de Grace will have been transformed.
The 110-year-old Amtrak railroad bridge spanning the Susquehanna River, which bisects Havre de Grace and is a vital link carrying high speed trains up and down the country's Northeast Corridor, is on schedule for replacement.
That tentative schedule, according to one Havre de Grace resident who has been actively involved in the planning process, is for construction to begin in about five years and for the bridge replacement project to be finished about five years later.
"The landscape of our city is going to change in the next 10 years," Havre de Grace Mayor Bill Martin said at Monday night's City Council meeting, "whether we want it to or not."
"And it's going to stay that way for 125 years," Volney Ford, chair of the city's Susquehanna River Rail Bridge Advisory Board, added.
Not a lot in the construction process over the next five years will be visible to people traveling through that area, Ford told the mayor and council. That time will be spent getting the plan ready for construction.
"It takes a long time to get all your ducks in a row" for a project of this magnitude, Ford said.
While 10 years may seem far off, Ford warned there's an urgency because the preliminary planning phase, when many of the big decisions are made, is quickly nearing its end.
When asked by Martin when residents should be focused on this project and providing input, Ford said they need to do it now.
"We're in that phase right now," Ford said. "When this preliminary design is done, it's pretty much set, unless some high ranking politician gets involved."
He and the other Susquehanna River Rail Bridge Advisory Board members have suggested alternatives.
They have asked "that the first span leaving the abutment be a traditional arch concrete beam," Ford said. "Of course, that costs more."
But it's a cost Ford and the advisory board think is well worth it.
"We wanted this same long arch span on both sides [of the river]," Ford said. "And so would Perryville."
The span is the gateway to downtown Havre de Grace, where the Susquehanna, the longest river east of the Mississippi, reaches the Chesapeake Bay, Ford said, adding it's a community with a long and rich history. Geography and history make the Havre de Grace side of the span unique.
"This bridge requires a certain amount of dignity in design," Ford, who has had a long career in architecture, design and engineering, said.
"We support the need for it, but we want it done right," he said.
The cost of replacing the bridge is just one issue; the other is that it will impact an area with a national historic designation, which creates another set of considerations.
The other concern the advisory board faces, Ford said during his update Monday night, is what the new bridge and rail alignment will mean for the smaller historic bridges and tunnels just west of the river.
There are two tunnels, at Freedom and Centennial lanes, and three bridges, spanning Stokes Street, Adams Street and Juniata streets.