Bridge renovation

The Baltimore Sun

The $56 million reconstruction of the Thomas J. Hatem Memorial Bridge across the Susquehanna River, which begins June 9, will disrupt traffic along the Route 40 corridor during the next three years.

The entire deck on the nearly 1.5-mile span between Havre de Grace and Perryville will be replaced for the first time in its 70-year history. Crews will also repair substructure concrete piers, install a permanent concrete barrier in the center for the length of the bridge and widen the lanes slightly, by restructuring existing barrier walls.

Reconstruction, which costs more than 10 times the $5 million expended on the original project in 1939, will mean an end to the persistent repairs on the bridge, extend its life, improve the ride and ensure the safety of motorists, officials said.

Workshops, presented by the Maryland Transportation Authority in Cecil County last week, offered displays, schedules and alternate routes, as well as diagrams of the work and photos of the bridge in its current state.

Images of crumbling concrete on the deck raised a few alarms among visitors.

"It is the steel substructure that holds up the bridge, and there is no problem with that," said George R. Fish, MdTA administrator for the Northern Region. "Functionally, this bridge is in sound shape and is inspected annually."

Traffic, which averages about 11 million vehicles a year, will be limited to two lanes -- one in each direction -- for the duration of the project. Periodic brief closures may occur to allow for delivery of construction materials.

"I cross it two times every day and realize it needs these repairs," said Tim Thompson of Perryville, who attended the workshop at the Perryville Library on Wednesday. "What they are doing is really necessary. But if they knock it down to two lanes of traffic, a lot of people may not want to use it."

Two more workshops are scheduled for Havre de Grace this week.

"The workshops are helpful," Thompson said. "I am interested in the construction and the lane closures. I also wonder how they will keep 18-wheelers off."

Any truck larger than three axles will be restricted to crossing during late evening hours and diverted to Interstate 95 during the day. The MdTA will post signs on Route 40 and on I-95 alerting trucks to the restrictions, which will occur from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. all week. Officials say that police will monitor the traffic. Large truck traffic accounts for about 5 percent of the daily volume on Hatem Bridge.

Robert J. Hodge, who owns a storage space company in North East and makes many deliveries to Aberdeen, said he has no doubts about the need to rebuild the bridge. But restrictions will create problems for his truckers, who will have to detour more than 4 miles on each trip.

"We have to make deliveries during daylight hours," he said. "The route around this construction will cost more, especially with the price of diesel fuel. It's about $1 a mile now, so every mile out of the way increases the cost of doing business."

Safety issues prompted the restrictions, said Fish.

"We did this solely for safety reasons," Fish said. "If there was an accident with a tractor-trailer, it would take hours to remove the truck."

The steel truss design of the 48-foot-wide bridge makes it impossible to provide shoulders. But narrowing and heightening the exterior barriers will make space for slightly wider lanes.

"We are eking out as many inches as we can," said Nafiz Alqasem, project manager.

The contract, with Joseph B. Fay Co., based in Pittsburgh, calls for substructural repairs and the replacement of seven piers, officials said.

Several people attending the workshop asked to use their reduced toll decals, which have attracted local commuters to the Hatem Bridge, on I-95. Financial ramifications and the logistical difficulties in limiting passes to Cecil and Harford county residents forced MdTA to deny those requests, Fish said.

About 70,000 vehicles a day cross the I-95 bridge over the river. E-Z passes are available for those motorists.

"We know Hatem has always been a cheap toll, and we have thought about it every which way, but we cannot offer the same toll on I-95," he said. "It would mean a significant loss of revenue."

Laurie Lopez of Port Deposit said she would likely continue using Hatem in the morning, but would switch to I-95 for her return trip, when she envisions rush hour congestion on the older bridge. She was among the more than 50 residents who attended the Cecil County workshops.

Workshops are scheduled for 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday at Meadowvale Elementary School Gym, 910 Graceview Drive, Havre de Grace. Information: or 888-MDTA-411.

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