Controversial new bridge due to open one way soon


Barring any weather disasters that might hold up completion, the new Severn River Bridge will open for traffic in about two weeks.

Well, for half the traffic anyway.

The eastbound lanes should be open the week of Aug. 15. Those who have to travel west from Annapolis will still be using the old bridge until the end of the month. So will pedestrians and bicyclists, said Chuck Brown, a spokesman for the State Highway Administration.

"Demolition of the old bridge will begin in late August," he said. "We have three months to complete that."

A 600-foot section of the northwest end of the new bridge will re

main unfinished until the old bridge comes down, Mr. Brown said. For the four months it will take to finish, both lanes of traffic will travel on the south side of the bridge.

The 2,825-foot bridge that has been praised by its architects for its "poetic quality" and condemned by its foes as being downright ugly will have all its finishing touches by February.

"We are still furious about it," said Virginia Strange, who lives in the Ferry Farms community near the bridge. "We figured that the old bridge could have been reconditioned at half the cost."

Mrs. Strange, who lives in the 1900 block of Old Annapolis Blvd., said bridge construction damaged the environment and wildlife. She and several of her neighbors lost a lawsuit against county officials requiring them to stop construction until further studies could be done to assess the impact of the bridge on the environment.

"We lost most of our birds," she said. "We have had 50-pound turtles coming in the yard [to escape]. It's just a wasteland."

Another group, Citizens for a Scenic Severn River Bridge, also tried to block the $34 million bridge in a lengthy court battle that they lost two years ago. A panel of federal appeals judges in Richmond, Va., tossed out their lawsuit, which sought a halt to construction until additional environmental studies could be completed.

The group feared that the new bridge would damage the river habitat and Annapolis' historic skyline.

Maryland transportation officials persuaded a lower court that they had carefully considered all aspects of the proposed span before approving it.

Lawyers for the State Highway Administration also argued that the 68-year-old bridge was one of the most decrepit in the state and needed to be replaced.

"I feel sad that we didn't protect the old bridge," said Bryan Miller, president of the Citizens for a Scenic Severn River Bridge. "I'm concerned that it [the new bridge] is not in keeping with Annapolis and that we are really opening up a major transportation network."

The new bridge, erected south of the old drawbridge, will serve as the eastern gateway to Annapolis. It leaves the Severn's northern bank near the Jonas Green State Park and sweeps across the river to near the grounds of the Naval Academy.

The design, which was the subject of controversy for many years, is the work of Greiner Inc., a Towson engineering firm that was chosen from 21 entries by a jury of engineers, architects, historians and community representatives.

"It allowed the river to speak for itself," Florence B. Kurdle said of the design. Ms. Kurdle, vice president of planning at Constellation Real Estate Group in Baltimore, served on the jury.

"It was slender and elegant and not a monument," she said. "We thought the river itself was the important thing."

State Del. John C. Astle, an Annapolis Democrat, who took a tour of the bridge last week, said the view from the top is "spectacular."

An unresolved issue is a planned oyster reef that would be made out of the concrete from the old bridge.

Although the permits have been issued to drop the concrete from the old bridge into the water, it seems the birds may thwart the plan.

William Moulden, who wants to build the reef as part of his Sherwood Forest summer naturalist program for children, needs a waiver from the provisions of a state tidal wetlands permit that precludes any work between Oct. 1 and March 31

"If a variance can't be granted, or a waiver can't be given, there's just not enough time to get the work done," Mr. Moulden said.

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