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Transportationby Melody Simmons7:26 amFeb 25, 20140

“It’s not going to be that bad,” official tells crowd wary of closing of Harford Road Bridge

Detours sending thousands of vehicles into residential streets is what worries Northeast residents the most. Questions? Put them in writing.

Above: A local resident looks at renderings of a new bridge over Herring Run. (Melody Simmons)

The planned two-year replacement of the Harford Road Bridge means many things to many people: demolition and design issues, construction safety concerns and how to reroute the 22,000 vehicles that cross the structure each day.

All were aired last night as a group of nearly 125 residents and business owners from Northeast Baltimore were told some of the nitty-gritty of the project for the first time at a meeting in the social hall of the Ray of Hope Baptist Church.

“What we’re talking about today is full closure of the bridge,” Robert Ferguson, a traffic engineer for the city’s Department of Engineering, told the crowd. “But it’s not going to be that bad.”

Most in the room disagreed.

Neighborhood Streets

The focus and much of the angst expressed centered on traffic – and an elaborate color-coded detour map that city officials unveiled last night.

On it, thousands of vehicles would be rerouted daily into nearby communities under three proposed routes.

Streets highlighted for detours include North Avenue, The Alameda/Loch Raven Boulevard, Erdman Avenue, Chesterfield Avenue, Argonne Drive, Cold Spring Lane and Echodale Road.

Mayfield residents study routes proposed for traffic coming through the residential streets. (Photo by Melody Simmons)

Mayfield residents study the routes proposed for traffic diverted from the closed bridge. (Melody Simmons)

“You are coming in to neighborhood streets as detours,” said Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke, whose 14th District includes a portion of the impacted area. “Why are you not starting further south?”

Emily Chalmers, a Mayfield resident, said the community had specifically asked to have Chesterfield Avenue taken off as a route for the detours because it holds a K-8 Catholic school, St. Francis of Assisi.

The athletic fields at Herring Run Park, also on Chesterfield, are regularly used by several area schools for sporting events.

“We spent all this time at the last meeting saying please don’t do this to us,” Chalmers said. “And you came here to this meeting and have decided to do this to us.”

Map of alternative routes when Harford Road Bridge (located just north of Chesterfield Avenue) is closed. (Baltimore DOT)

Map of proposed routes when Harford Road Bridge (just north of Chesterfield Avenue) is closed. (DOT)

Can’t Speak to a Reporter

Rebecca Malone, principal of St. Francis, also raised safety concerns about Chesterfield Avenue.

Transportation officials stood with passive expressions and did not respond to requests by residents to consider adding extra stop signs and possible speed bumps to certain residential neighborhoods to quell speeding traffic.

Jeremy M. Mocny, vice president of Whitman, Requardt & Associates, the engineering firm hired by the city to create the detours, declined to answer questions from a reporter after the meeting about how the detour maps were drawn up.

Mocny was told he could not comment by Scott B. Weaver, chief of the city’s bridge engineering section, after Weaver called Kathy Chopper Dominick, a spokeswoman for the Department of Transportation, to ask permission to speak to a reporter.

Dominick nixed the request, saying all questions about the bridge had to be submitted to the department in writing.

Residents were allowed to ask questions during a Q&A period that lasted about an hour. In addition, they were told they could submit questions and comments about the bridge replacement project on a form handed out by transportation officials that did not contain any contacts or a phone number or email address in the department.

City transportation officials address last night's large crowd in Lauraville. Standing at far right is 3rd District Councilman Robert Curran. (Photo by Melody Simmons)

City transportation officials address last night’s crowd in Lauraville. Standing at far right is 3rd District Councilman Robert Curran. Seated and raising hand is the 14th District’s Mary Pat Clarke. (Melody Simmons)

MTA Reviewing Detour Plans

Some of the concerns raised included new routes for MTA buses thwarted from their daily runs along Harford Road. Chris Brown, the bridge project manager, could not answer questions about bus service, saying MTA officials were “reviewing” the detour plans.

The bridge replacement will cost city taxpayers $5 million, officials said. The remaining $20 million will be paid from federal and state funds. The project was first discussed in 2001. It was stalled in 2005 amid funding issues and was revived in 2008.

The new design will hold four traffic lanes, two bicycle lanes and two five-foot sidewalks. Overall, the bridge will increase 6 feet in width from the current structure, DOT officials said, to meet state and federal highway standards.

Plans call for closing the bridge, which spans a busy section of Harford Road just south of Lauraville and north of Mayfield, beginning in the summer of 2015.

Taking higher priority at DOT is the Central Avenue Bridge that will extend the roadway from Harbor East to Harbor Point and serve the new Exelon Tower at the site.

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake last month signed a commitment to finance that bridge with a mix of federal, state and city TIF funds.

Too Deteriorated to Rehab

The current structure is decrepit – filled with asphalt dimples, frequent potholes, cracks and whole chunks missing in the concrete curbs and sidewalks.

Harford Road Bridge in 1938. (Photo by Federal Highway Administration)

Harford Road Bridge in 1938. (Federal Highway Administration)

“The bridge sufficiency rating. . . is classified as ‘poor’ at 39.6 out of a scale of zero to 100,” said a handout from the transportation department.

The bridge has deteriorated beyond repair. Among its problems: arch barrel deterioration, failing spandrel walls, inadequate fill drainage and an uneven roadway surface.

“For those of you who are history buffs, it was built in 1911, one year before the Titanic was built,” Brown pointed out.

When 95% of the design work is completed, another community meeting is expected to be held.

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