New Bridge Safer for Cars, Bicyclists and Pedestrians

Every 80 years or so, a bridge needs to be replaced, explained Glenn Vaughan, division chief of the Office of Bridge Development, Maryland State Highway Administration. As the bridge approaches the end of its lifespan, much like aging people, things start to go wrong.

The circa-1930 MD 355 CSX Railroad Bridge, located approximately 4 miles up Urbana Pike from the Villages of Urbana, is an important bridge across the Monocacy to Frederick. Today, this aged bridge is “structurally deficient.”

The Maryland State Highway Administration (SHA) hosted an information meeting for the proposed bridge replacement project at the Monocacy National Battlefield Visitor Center on Dec. 5. Four bridge replacement concepts were shared, and National Park Service officials discussed project considerations like mitigating impact on the battlefield and the natural environment while also maximizing safe public access to park grounds that are separated by the Monocacy River.

Vaughan said that the state Route 355 bridge was rated using SHA’s 0 to 9 grading system, with 9 as a perfect rating and 0 meaning the bridge is no longer standing. Three aspects of the bridge were graded: its deck, the steel girders beneath the deck, and the piers and abutments that hold the girders and deck up. The deck rated a 4 and is “structurally deficient.” The steel girders and piers and abutments rated 5s, which Vaughan explained is like a C.

At this point, the bridge is holding its own. Vaughan said he would stand beneath a bridge rated a 3 or 4, but if the bridge were rated a 2, he would put on a hard hat. In the near term, the only worry might be cracks opening in the deck, something that would be fixed with steel plates.

SHA could simply repair the deck, perhaps to the tune of $3 million or $4 million, and get another 10 to 20 years out of the bridge. The cost of maintaining an older bridge would also have to be factored into this scenario.

Or, for approximately $6 million to $8 million, SHA could replace the bridge and enjoy very low maintenance costs for some time.

Two factors led SHA to decide on bridge replacement. The Bridge Department has money now, said Vaughan. Plus, there is a functional imperative. The CSX Railroad, which passes beneath the bridge, needs higher clearance to double-stack container cars and maximize effort and profit. The National Park Service needs a pedestrian walkway and bicycle-compatible shoulder to connect stops on the Monocacy Battlefield Tour, a tour that today can only be completed by car.

Rick Slade, superintendent of Monocacy National Battlefield, is pleased that bridge replacement will open up the park to pedestrians and bicyclists and that SHA is taking into consideration the park’s unique concerns. “Our overarching thing is to minimize impacts, physical and aesthetic,” he explained. “The new bridge will complement the historical feel of the park.”

The question is how best to do this. SHA proposed four scenarios at the public information meeting on Dec. 5.

Concept 1 constructs a new bridge on the west side of the existing bridge, resulting in improved access to the New Jersey Monument and parking lot. Two lanes of traffic would be maintained on the existing bridge during construction.

Concept 2 constructs a new bridge on the east side of the existing bridge, but this bridge would need to have a longer span to accommodate the more complex CSX rails on that side of state Route 355. Two lanes of traffic would be maintained on the existing bridge during construction.

Concept 3 constructs a new bridge on the existing alignment. A temporary, two-lane bridge would be erected to the west to maintain traffic flow on state Route 355. Perhaps more costly, this concept would maintain the existing configuration of the battlefield once the project is complete.

Concept 4 constructs a new bridge on the existing alignment using a temporary signal to maintain one lane of traffic during construction. This concept would also maintain the existing configuration of the battlefield, but it would take longer to complete construction.

Superintendent Slade looks forward to public involvement in the planning phase of the project, hoping that people bring their knowledge of park history and wildlife to him. In accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act, NPS will look at positive and negative impacts of the project, specifically as they affect park resources like architecture, history, flora and fauna. “It will be totally transparent,” he emphasized, noting that anyone who submits a public comment will automatically be added to the NPS stakeholder list and receive updates on the project as it moves forward.

Questions or comments may be sent to Kelly Nash, SHA Project Manager, SHA Office of Structures, 707 North Calvert Street, Mail Stop C-203, Baltimore, Md. 21202 or emailed to knash@sha.state.md.us. Comments should be submitted by Jan. 5.

SHA hopes to bid the project out in a year and begin construction as early as spring 2015.

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