Drivers rev up for new bridge


Now that the rebuilt Homewood Road bridge has reopened the popular link between western Howard County and Columbia, officials are worried that eager drivers may speed on the wider, repaved road.

So don't be surprised to see a police car or two, said Jay Steimetz, project engineer, who said County Executive James N. Robey and police Chief Wayne Livesay were checking the road out after the bridge officially opened Friday.

After 11 months of detours, people who live near the bridge were so eager to begin driving on it they didn't wait until it was finished. "Everybody has snuck through," said Denise McGovern, who lives close to the bridge.

Where an unencumbered Middle Patuxent River flowed in March now stands a high, wide and handsome $1.8 million bridge - a pale concrete blip on newly blacktopped Homewood Road that the average motorist wouldn't think twice about.

The new bridge was finished after the original target date of May but earlier than subsequent estimates, which called for completion of the bridge in late summer or fall.

Traffic across the bridge was stopped in August, but the original contractor went bankrupt and walked off the job in late January. Work resumed in March.

Steimetz said the county was "very happy" with the speed with which General Contracting of Gaithersburg and McLean Contracting of Baltimore finished the job. The project would have been finished sooner, but June thunderstorms and heavy rains delayed repaving. To avoid further delays, the county moved up a scheduled repaving of Homewood Road to coincide with the bridge's completion, Steimetz said.

Several residents, seeing that the roadbed was done and that only finishing touches remained, began maneuvering past the road barriers last week to cross the new bridge. The span is higher, raising it above the 100-year floodplain, and wider than the old bridge, with two 12-foot lanes, plus 6 1/2 -foot shoulders on each side.

McGovern said a friend told her about boldly crossing during the day, waving to construction workers who were putting up guardrails. Because no one objected, more neighbors began doing it.

One of the main beneficiaries is private Glenelg Country School, which has summer programs in session. The school draws most of its enrollment from Columbia but sits west of the bridge.

"We're ecstatic," said Headmaster Ryland O. Chapman. "That will make things so much better for our parents. It will shorten the drive considerably for 60 to 70 percent of the parents."

People on both sides of the bridge complained about traffic on Sheppard Lane, the detour route, and the extra time involved.

But now that they've got convenience back, some living near the bridge are mourning the peacefulness they had become used to.

"Now I'm in favor of peace and quiet," said Dorothy Lennig, who lives on Homewood Road with her husband, Vernon Knause Jr.

"I tell ya, we got so used to it. I hate to lose that [silence]," said Knause.

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