Linking hands over the Severn, bridge foes deliver the lowdown on high span


ANNAPOLIS -- About 350 people chanting "No high bridge!" lined the old Severn River span yesterday and joined hands to protest plans to replace it with an 80-foot-high crossing.

The protesters, singing an anti-bridge song to a bagpiper's rendition of "Loch Lomond," marched through the streets of the state capital to the Governor's Mansion, where they rallied and tried to present a written appeal for a lower bridge to Gov. William Donald Schaefer.

But nobody from the governor's office emerged to accept the appeal, and protest organizers said they would deliver it to the governor's press office tomorrow.

The protesters -- a broad mix of Annapolis-area residents including babies in strollers, senior citizens, families, bicyclists, joggers and local lawmakers -- gathered on the bridge just after noon on a damp, gray day.

A sea of signs captured their sentiments: "Take back your monster bridge," "Ban the high span," "No 80-foot mother of all bridges."

As a big red balloon hovered 80 feet above them, the protesters said that the planned $40 million replacement for the old drawbridge would be an eyesore that would overwhelm the historic skyline, damage the environment and dump high-speed traffic onto a two-lane street.

"We're here today to take back control over what happens to our community and not let the State Highway Administration or any other state agency tell us what is best for us and what is best for our town," said Thomas McCarthy Jr., an Annapolis attorney and a leader in the fight against the high bridge.

Mark Cramer, a 37-year-old Anne Arundel County building inspector, pushed a double stroller across the bridge. His

4-year-old son, Ned, sharing the stroller with his 2-year-old sister, Nina, crooned, "No high bridge, no high bridge" above the din of blaring horns.

"This is a small city, and this bridge just is something that's meant for a big city, not a small town like this," said Mr. Cramer, who lives across the Severn River from Annapolis. "I call it selling out Annapolis, and that's exactly what the governor's doing here."

Added Mary Purcell, a 35-year-old Annapolis architect, "We've given enough consideration to the convenience of automobiles. It's time we start talking about humans, about people."

Yesterday's protest was the latest in a series of opponents' 11th-hour efforts to stop construction of the four-lane span to replace the crumbling two-lane drawbridge carrying Route 450 traffic into Annapolis.

More than 2,000 people have signed petitions against the 80-foot-high span, and leaders of the opposition movement have threatened a lawsuit to stop construction. Mr. McCarthy said his group, Citizens for the Severn Scenic River Bridge, has gathered about 3,000 signatures in the past week on a second petition, asking the governor to consider a lower span. The group hopes (( to gather 7,000 more signatures in the next two weeks.

But opponents' bid for reconsideration of the bridge's design has failed to win the support of Mr. Schaefer, state transportation officials and the city's representatives in the General Assembly.

State officials plan to proceed with construction of the high bridge next year because, they say, the state would likely lose $32 million in federal money if it reopens public hearings.

Welford McLellan, a spokesman for Mr. Schaefer, said yesterday that the governor would not reconsider the bridge's design.

"The governor certainly wants to hear these people's concerns," Mr. McLellan said. "But he has no plans to reconsider this bridge because there's simply too much federal money at stake here."

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