The state will go ahead with plans to build an 80-foot-high bridge over the Severn River, Transportation Secretary O. James Lighthizer said yesterday.
Lighthizer's statement came in reaction to a unanimous County Council vote opposing the bridge. The council qualified itsopposition by saying the state should proceed with the bridge if money for a redesigned bridge wasn't found "within a reasonable amount of time."
"You can consider that an endorsement, because it went out to bid(Monday)," Lighthizer said.
However, opponents of the bridge vowed to press on. "The council decided to explore alternatives," said Tom Davies, an architect and Annapolis resident. "That's certainly not an endorsement of putting it out to bid."
"If our legislators, whoare supposed to represent the people, won't help with this, and the state goes ahead and tries to build this bridge, we have no choice but to sue," Annapolis attorney Tom McCarthy Jr. said.
The opponentswill meet with Lighthizer, State Highway Administration officials and state delegates in Annapolis today. The District 30 General Assembly delegation will also meet with the Annapolis City Council next Monday.
Monday night's vote was a setback for opponents, who had hopedthe council would state its unqualified opposition to the proposed bridge, as the Annapolis City Council did three weeks ago. The opponents want the state to design a bridge more like the 35-foot-high Route450 drawbridge it will replace.
But Diane Evans, R-Severna Park, saying she "cannot tolerate slash-and-burn activism," amended the resolution to let the state proceed with the bridge if money for a redesignedbridge isn't found soon.
"I don't think you can kill the bridge and just walk away," Evans said. "I believe we need a bridge and we need it now."
About 250 people who packed the council chambers booed when the amendment passed, 4-3. Carl "Dutch" Holland, R-Pasadena, Dave Boschert, D-Crownsville, and George Bachman, D-Linthicum, voted for the amendment.
Councilwoman Maureen Lamb, D-Annapolis, who co-sponsored the resolution opposing the bridge with Chairwoman Virginia Clagett, D-West River, told Evans, "I have to tell you, you have successfully dynamited this resolution." The crowd drowned out the rest of her statement with applause.
Opponents presented Lamb with more than 2,000 signatures from residents opposing the bridge. They picketed outside the Arundel Center and displayed paintings of the old drawbridge in the lobby.
Hal Kassoff, SHA administrator, told the council that the state will lose $32 million in federal money if transportation planners don't commit to the bridge by Aug. 15. If federal money is used, the state would pay about $8 million toward the cost of the bridge.
Kassoff said he hopes to open bids from contractors in about two months and award the contract byfall. Construction wouldbegin next year, and the new bridge would open in 1994.
But Davies, the architect who represented the opponents at the meeting, said the federal money the state says it will lose comes from the gas tax, most of which is returned to the states anyway. He said legislation is working its way through Congress that would make federal money available next year to replace rundown bridges. "There's a risk, but there is money out there," he said.
The 67-year-old drawbridge is rated the worst in the state, scoring a 4 out of a possible 100 points ona "sufficiency" scale, said Earle S. Freedman, the Highway Administration's deputy chief engineer for bridge development. He said bridgesthat score up to 49 on the scale are eligible for federal replacement money.
State officials have criticized the opponents for mounting an attack on the bridge eight years after the planning process began. But Davies said no one saw what the bridge would look like until May 1990, when pictures of the winning design were published.
Highway planners say the bridge would speed up both highway and boat traffic; the drawbridge rises about 9,000 times a year. But Davies said that boat traffic is seasonal and that residents are willing to put up with the inconvenience.
The proposed bridge would be75 feet above the water; the old drawbridge clears the water by 12 feet. It would be 2,800 feet long, about 1,000 feet longer than the drawbridge. The entrance to Jonas Green State Park would be beneath the northeast end of the bridge, Davies said.
At 54 feet wide, the bridge would be wide enough for two lanes of traffic, pedestrian walkways and a light-rail track.
By comparison, the six-lane bridge over the Severn River at U.S. 50 rises 80 feet above the water and is 2,900 feet long. The new U.S. 50 Kent Narrows bridge is shorter than the proposed bridge and rises 65 feet above the water.
Davies said the proposed bridge would damage wetlands, ruin scenic views and increase traffic on narrow Annapolis streets.
"This bridge is just a slap in the face to city officials and the entire city of Annapolis," Annapolis Alderman Ellen O. Moyer, D-Ward 8, said. "This high bridge would be almost the last nail in the coffin, the death knell for this city. It would just destroy everything that's special about this city."
* In otheraction Monday night, the County Council extended the county's five commercial bingo licenses for six months, while a commission drafts new guidelines to regulate the troubled industry. The licenses would have expired Monday.
Staff writer Gary Gately contributed to this story.
Staff writer Gary Gately contributed to this story.