Harford Road Bridge closed for next three years during replacement, disrupting Northeast Baltimore traffic

The Harford Road Bridge over Herring Run in Northeast Baltimore closed today and will remain closed for the next three years, likely causing major traffic backups, as the city spends $18.9 million to replace the century-old bridge.

The more than 22,000 drivers a day who take the major thoroughfare across the bridge are asked to use detours on parallel roads: Belair Road to the east, and Hillen Road and Perring Parkway to the west.

“The replacement of the Harford Road Bridge will have a tremendous impact on Baltimore’s transportation network,” city Transportation Director Michelle Pourciau said in a statement.

City officials know the full closure of Harford Road will be a major disruption to drivers on the city’s east side, but keeping part of the bridge open during construction would cause the project to take far longer and double or triple the costs, said Chris Brown, the project’s bridge project engineer.

Concrete sometimes falls from the bottom of the bridge, which has exposed structural rebar. Water gushing out of its side last year alarmed drivers and residents alike. The city had been promising to replace it for about 20 years, and officials said at a public workshop in 2008 that work would begin in the next two or three years.

Technopref Industries of Alexandria, Va., won the contract this summer to demolish the old bridge and build the new one.

The new bridge will include new traffic lights, major utility upgrades, storm water facilities, sidewalks and bike lanes, the transportation department said. The three-span pre-stressed concrete girder bridge will include the distinctive arch facades to maintain the same aesthetics as the original, built in 1911.

The Herring Run Trail underneath the bridge will remain open during construction, except for occasional necessary closures. The Herring Run/Greenway Trail will also be reconstructed.

Traffic signs have been placed near the bridge to alert drivers to the impending closure, and once construction begins, traffic officers will be placed at key Harford Road intersections to direct traffic.

Updates on the construction project will be posted at transportation.baltimorecity.gov.

“The Department of Transportation appreciates everyone’s patience as we work to improve the city’s transportation infrastructure for the citizens of Baltimore,” the department said in a statement.

City Councilman Ryan Dorsey, who represents the area and runs a Facebook page dedicated to news about the bridge, criticized the new bridge’s design as “incredibly unsafe” because the bike lane is not physically separated by barriers from the road, he said.

If it had been designed in Montgomery County, Dorsey said, a separated bike lane would be required due to traffic volumes and observed speeds.

“It’s really a failing of DOT that a safer design was not planned from the outset, even worse that safer design was called for by community from the earliest stages, but DOT insisted on this unsafe design,” Dorsey said. “This DOT has not really inspired much confidence so far, but I’m still holding out hope that a change will be made before we get to a point where it’s really too late.”

Over the past 15 years, the city transportation department has ignored calls from residents, advocates and public officials to build a new bridge that is safe and accessible for pedestrians and bicyclists, said Jed Weeks, policy director of Bikemore, a bicycle advocacy group.

“Instead, they've doomed generations of Baltimoreans to an unsafe design with minimum width sidewalks and unprotected bike lanes next to speeding traffic,” Weeks said in a statement. “This bridge is a total failure in planning and an example of why we had to pass an ordinance to force BCDOT to do better in the future."

The bike lane will be separated by flex posts, said Scott Weaver, the Department of Transportation’s chief of bridge engineering. The department studied using a concrete jersey wall or widening the sidewalk, he said, but both options would have added too much weight and would have increased costs significantly.

“The increased weight would cause us to have to redesign the bridge girders, which would cause us to redesign the foundation,” Weaver said. “It’s really a snowball effect.”

Before construction could begin, BGE had to remove a gas main running under the bridge, and the Maryland Historical Trust conducted an archaeological survey after an arrowhead was found nearby, eventually determining construction would not affect any Native American burial grounds. Officials also coordinated with the Maryland Transit Administration to ensure bus detours are in place, Weaver said.

In 2008, Baltimore officials convened a conference of transportation experts from across the country to ask for their advice on best practices to replace the bridge, said Brown, the city’s project engineer.

“Almost unanimously they suggested a full closure of Harford Road for this project, because it would save both time and money,” he said.

cmcampbell@baltsun.com

twitter.com/cmcampbell6

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