Falls Road bridge closing to affect businesses, residents Valley Inn wonders if detours will repel traffic


In its 166 years, the Valley Inn has made it from the horse- and-buggy days to the computer era. Now the popular Brooklandville restaurant and bar may be facing its toughest challenge: The Beltway widening project.

Tomorrow, the 370-foot-long Falls Road bridge that crosses Interstate 695 -- and is the main drag to the historic inn -- will close for eight months to make way for a 402-foot replacement.

As State Highway Administration engineers chip away at the old expanse, the inn's famed mint juleps will be made while steaks and seafood sizzle under the broiler. But owner Bud Hatfield is wondering how well his customers will be able to navigate a couple of detours to find the place.

"We'll just sit here and hope for the best," says Hatfield, expecting some inconvenience for his patrons. "We've never been closed down. We have made it a policy to stay open and serve the community."

In addition to the inn, the Falls Road bridge closing will affect a circle of residents, businesses, a large nursing home and even fire stations serving the hilly community west of Lutherville near the old Cloisters Children's Museum.

The bridge project will have one of the biggest impacts on the public of the $55 million, 2 1/2 -year effort to widen the Beltway to eight lanes between southbound Interstate 83 (the Jones Falls Expressway) and Reisterstown Road. It started in March.

In addition to the detours on Falls Road, the $2.5 million bridge project will require periodic closings of the Beltway beginning next month as workers remove the old bridge and its three support piers and build new ones.

Although the closings are planned for 15-minute periods between midnight and 5 a.m., state officials acknowledge that tearing down a large bridge over a part of the highway traveled daily by about 180,000 vehicles is daunting.

As the bridge is torn down, noise could be a problem for residents nearby, said Susan O'Brien, a spokeswoman for the highway administration.

For months, state highway officials shepherding the Beltway widening project have met with groups in Brooklandville to explain the detours planned on Falls Road.

Northbound motorists will be directed west onto Old Court Road and north along Greenspring Avenue to the Beltway and back onto Falls.

Southbound motorists will be detoured onto the Beltway toward Pikesville and onto Greenspring. Then the detour will direct vehicles east on Old Court to Falls.

"We met with the community, and we agreed that a bite-the-bullet approach was best," said Linda Singer, a highway official. "We both wanted to get in, close the bridge and do it, and this was the best way possible."

The construction will be the second time in six years that a bridge will be closed and rebuilt along heavily traveled Falls Road. In 1991, the Falls Road bridge in Mount Washington, near Lake Avenue, was closed for replacement by a higher bridge to accommodate the Mass Transit Administration's Central Light Rail line that now runs below it.

Each time, state highway engineers say they have tried to make the construction and detours as painless as possible. The current work on the Falls Road bridge was timed to coincide with the closing of area schools, O'Brien said.

"We didn't want to impact more than one school year," O'Brien said. "There's bus traffic that we had to be considerate of."

In addition to school buses, trucks from Baltimore County's Brooklandville firehouse will have to use the detours or other back roads. The station, about a half-mile south of the Falls Road bridge, has eight firefighters, one engine and a medic unit.

"We are aware of the back roads, and other stations to be affected have been notified and are taking measures," said Capt. Raymond Kinsey. "It'll cause a very, very minor delay in our getting from Point A to Point B. I don't even think the community will be aware that the bridge is closed as far as the Fire Department is concerned. Everybody's ready for it."

Nancy Hill of the 10200 block of Falls Road, close to the bridge, said the detours will lengthen her commute to the post office in Green Spring Station and make it difficult for her baby sitter to reach her house using public transportation.

But Hill and several other immediate neighbors of the bridge said they would not find its closing hard to bear. One of them, Jodie Johnson, even circulated a petition to keep the Falls Road bridge closed to reduce traffic in the area, Hill said.

"I'm actually going to enjoy the decrease in traffic along Falls Road," Hill added.

Pub Date: 6/17/96

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