Havre de Grace officials talk about plans for new Amtrak bridge

Havre de Grace City Council members told railroad officials during a work session Monday they hope a plan to expand or re-route the existing Amtrak bridge over the Susquehanna River will not affect the city's major investments or local properties.

Amtrak presented a proposal showing that would possibly expand the existing bridge to a new two-track or four-track structure. The existing swing drawbridge has two tracks.

It would also include reconstruction of the approaches to the Susquehanna Bridge and is expected to improve the navigation channel for marine users, according to the project description.

Project director Craig Rolwood and deputy chief engineer James Richter cautioned the project is still in the very early stages.

Rolwood said Amtrak is looking to have 30 percent of the design done in the next three years. Two years ago, Maryland received federal funding toward the design of a new bridge after the state of Florida cancelled a planned high speed rail line project that was due to receive millions in federal construction subsidies.

"It's a tremendous piece of infrastructure but it is 100 years old," Rolwood said of the bridge. "It's serviceable for what we have right now and it is safe… but we have a functionally obsolete bridge."

He said a 2007 MARC train study showed increased interest in commuter rail. Amtrak has previously cited traffic issues along its Northeast Corridor as a deterrent to future commuter train growth

In general, Rolwood added, train ridership on the East Coast has risen by about 50 percent in the last 10 years.

Amtrak will also do a "hands-on" bridge inspection this summer, which it has not done in several years.

"We have had good growth of ridership in the northeast corridor," Rolwood said.

Havre de Grace mayor Wayne Dougherty said he is concerned about utilities, private property, roads, sidewalks and curbing in the area, as well as two parks the city has invested a lot of money in already.

"My biggest concern is to invest money and then have a bulldozer tear it all apart," he said. "We are putting tremendous investment into two parks down there."

The city's Jean Roberts and David Craig parks are located on either side of the bridge. In addition, while the tracks approaching the bridge are elevated, they run next to the city's high school football stadium and also parallel the site where construction of a new high school is being considered.

Council President Randy Craig also urged transportation officials to give the city more time to collect resident input and get general feedback from stakeholders.

Amtrak had originally requested all input to be collected by June 30. Rolwood acknowledged it was a mistake to not give more notice.

"We have always had a good relationship with the railroad," Craig said.

He noted the parks have an important boat launching ramp that is heavily used sometimes and he said the city is intent on replacing any amenities that are lost.

Rolwood and Richter both said most details of the plan remain up in the air and will continue to be studied.

Councilman Bill Martin joked: "It really sounds like something our great-grandchildren are going to enjoy."

He asked Amtrak if it could leave the old bridge for city use, if a new one does need to be built.

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