Harford Road Bridge in Northeast Baltimore Reopens After Disruptive and Frightening Water Main Break

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Still via Councilman Ryan Dorsey/Twitter

City public works crews have fixed a sizable water main break within the Harford Road Bridge that runs above Herring Run Park.

On Thursday, city officials shut the bridge down after an internal 20-inch water main ruptured. The closure disrupted evening traffic for commuters traveling through the northeast side of the city.

It also spooked plenty of people who saw footage from the scene shared by Councilman Ryan Dorsey, who represents constituents in the area. The video showed water spewing from cracks and holes in the sides and underbelly of the bridge.

Department of Public Works officials tweeted that they expected the thoroughfare to remain closed for all of Friday, telling drivers to plan to take other routes. However, DPW tweeted this morning that the bridge had reopened, with “repairs completed ahead of schedule.”

The structure was built in 1911 and was last rehabilitated in 1921, according to BridgeHunter.com.

The city has been working with the federal government and contractors on plans to replace it since the early 2000’s. Then-Mayor Martin O’Malley had promised residents he would help replace the bridge, but endless delays ensued.

Because the bridge has received a Bridge Sufficiency Rating below 50 — under 40, actually, per the Baltimore Brew — the project is eligible for federal funding, which would pay for 80 percent of the costs. The rest would come from the city.

The city previously applied for federal assistance years ago with a 10-year time limit on starting construction. That timer has since run out, and in the process, the government modified its regulations for stormwater retention, something architecture and engineering firm Whitman, Requardt & Associates, LLP now has to account for in updates to the original plan that it developed for the city.

The city has been working with Whitman, Requardt & Associates since the early days of the project, with costs continuing to rise for every planned adjustment. So far, the firm has drawn up design plans for a replacement bridge, analyzed traffic patterns, water resources and the rock structures surrounding the bridge area and conducted an environmental evaluation, according to its website.

The firm’s renderings and description of the planned replacement bridge indicate it will be a four-lane passageway with bike lanes on each side, and will have “upgraded utilities, lighting, traffic signals, traffic signing and marking, as well as new storm water management facilities and improved landscaping elements.”

January Board of Estimates minutes show the Department of Transportation recently paid the firm nearly $482,000 for additional planning work on a pedestrian passageway and other design modifications to adhere to those new federal environmental stormwater retention guidelines, as well as other work.

According to the Harford Park Community Association, a nonprofit representing homeowners in the nearby neighborhood that straddles the city-Baltimore County line, construction was originally supposed to begin in summer 2015, but was delayed.

Baltimore City Department of Transportation spokeswoman Adrienne Barnes said the City “plans to release a set of documents for contractors to bid upon this fall” once it receives funding approval from the Maryland State Highway Administration and the Federal Highway Administration.

Construction would begin in spring of 2018, she said.

Once it starts, that work will close the bridge for between 18 months and two years, according to the Harford Park Community Association.

Councilman Dorsey has been running an equally humorous and informative “Harford Road Bridge” Facebook page, a member of his staff confirmed. In addition to a poignant description of the crumbling structure – “I’m a bridge. I live in Herring Run Park. I’m 105 years old, which is a miracle, cause I was supposed to be dead at 70.” – Dorsey has been offering his constituents regular updates about the project.

According to his most recent one, work cannot begin “until BGE has finished relocation of the gas line” running under the bridge, which will coincide with when the city reapplies for federal funding to help pay for the project.

Via Twitter, Dorsey said on Friday that BGE should finish its work on that line in November of this year.

After the recent water main break, the councilman said he “questioned [the] City bridge chief hard today and was assured in no uncertain terms that the bridge is safe at present.”

This story has been updated with comment from the Baltimore City Department of Transportation and Councilman Ryan Dorsey.

Ethan McLeod
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