The little bridge that wouldn't die is finally one step closer to death row.
Baltimore County needs one more permit before it can begin building a new bridge at the intersection of Cromwell Bridge, Glenarm and Cub Hill roads, according to Robert C. Berner, the county's chief highway designer.
Mr. Berner said he expects to get the permit from the state Department of Natural Resources before the end of the year.
The bridge problem was accentuated the past two weekends by heavy rain and the consequent high water of Gunpowder Falls, which curled around the north end of the bridge and covered the road with two to three feet of water. Officials closed the bridge to traffic for several hours on both weekends.
"The overflow probably helped save the bridge," Mr. Berner said. "It took the pressure off and helped keep it from being carried away."
Construction on the new bridge, 55 feet downstream of the old one, would begin next summer and take about 18 months, but Mr. Berner said that there would be little interruption to traffic. About 10,500 cars use the bridge each weekday.
"We'll keep the old bridge intact until the new one is finished," Mr. Berner said. "There might be a day here and there when we might have to close it."
Cost is estimated at $4.5 million, with the federal government paying for 90 percent of the bridge cost and 70 percent of the road work.
The new bridge will be 240 feet long and 30 feet wide, including a 7-foot walkway on one side. It also will be 7 feet higher than the current one to accommodate high water from heavy rains. The current bridge is 161 feet long and 20 feet wide.
The county first announced plans to replace the current bridge -- built 69 years ago -- in 1978, then spent the next 15 years traversing a forbidding gantlet of county, state and federal regulatory agencies to get approval.
Tropical Storm Agnes nearly destroyed the bridge in 1972. Repaired many times since, the bridge is now essentially held together by 20-foot-long bolts. It passed its last inspection in May 1991, but calcium is leaching from the concrete, and rusting iron is clearly visible.
There are some weight restrictions, but the bridge can accommo
date up to 31.6 tons or an 18-wheeler, Mr. Berner said.
Constructing a new bridge was complicated by the fact that the project involves wetlands, a body of water and the Gunpowder Falls State Park.
"It's been very frustrating" Mr. Berner said. "There have been too many players in the bureaucracy game."
A lengthy environmental impact statement followed the engineering agreement reached among all parties in 1978.
The county bought small parcels of land from seven private owners, held consultations with community associations and made regular reassessments of the project.
"We held three public hearings on the route of the bridge and the impact statement, and another one in 1982 on the design work," Mr. Berner said.
The county had to deal with sewer line relocations and expected bank erosion caused by construction. Each problem added bureaucratic players, and the county spent the next several years trading correspondence and phone calls with various agencies and redrawing plans in response.
Mr. Berner said in November 1992 that he thought the project would be ready to go in June 1993. But permit troubles caused further delays.