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Project will widen section of Baltimore Beltway.

Public/private partnership and environmental accountability are the hallmarks of the Maryland Transportation Authority's (MdTA) most recent capital project - the "dualization" of the southeast portion of the Baltimore Beltway (I-695). When completed in 1998, the $89.5-million construction project should improve access to area industry, improve the flow of traffic at the Francis Scott Key (FSK) Bridge located near Sparrows Point, Maryland, and help alleviate traffic volumes at two other Baltimore harbor crossings at the Fort McHenry and Baltimore Harbor tunnels.

The new 3.6-mile roadway will replace the existing raised two-lane highway that has served as the north approach to the FSK Bridge on I-695 since it opened in 1977. The finished structure will feature two dual-lane, ground-level highways (hence the term "dualization"), a new bridge that will be built parallel to the existing Bear Creek Bridge, new interchange ramps, and improved access roads to Bethlehem Steel Corporation's Sparrows Point Plant.

Maryland's Governor William Donald Schaefer was joined recently by state and local officials, private industry representatives, environmentalists, and community activists at the foot of the FSK Bridge to break ground for the dualization project. "Maryland has an outstanding transportation infrastructure that offers convenience and safety to all customers," said Governor Schaefer. "This project is the result of a successful coalition that was built between the Maryland Transportation Authority, community groups, and the private sector as well as federal, state, and county agencies, all of whom recognized the importance of overcoming individual interests to solve a transportation dilemma." The dilemma lies in the inadequacy of the FSK Bridge's single-lane north approach to handle rising traffic volumes.

So Many Cars, Too Little Bridge

The FSK Bridge is one of the authority's seven toll facilities. Used initially to relieve traffic at the Baltimore Harbor Tunnel and as a bypass for haulers of hazardous materials, the FSK Bridge now serves an increasing volume of daily commuter traffic along with commercial traffic. Since the FSK Bridge opened in March 1977, traffic has expanded by 50 percent to 9.1 million vehicles during fiscal year 1994.

"Community groups have been very supportive of his project," said Jack Moeller, MdTA Director of Engineering and lead representative at the authority's public hearings on the dualization project. "Once we were able to show them that the beltway improvements would actually improve traffic flow and produce a net gain for communities' quality of life, we moved ahead swiftly from talking about the project to making it a reality."

Another key to the acceptance of the plan to expand the southeast portion of the Baltimore Beltway has been support from the private sector. Bethlehem Steel Corporation, whose official have been cooperative in providing the land needed to build the dual-lane highway at ground level, and the Port of Baltimore, which has two major terminals in proximity to the FSK Bridge, all stand to benefit from improved access to their facilities.

Improvements to the beltway will be completed in four phases. The first two phases involve the construction of a second Bear Creek Bridge, followed by the widening of the FSK Bridge toll plaza from nine to twelve lanes. During the third phase, construction will begin on the roadway from the new Bear Creek Bridge to Route 151, the I-695 and Route 151 interchange will be reconfigured, the existing two-lane viaduct will be dismantled, and a ground-level roadway will be built from the Route 151 interchange to the original Bear Creek Bridge. Rehabilitation of the existing bridge will complete the project. Construction of the dual-lane highway will be financed entirely through toll revenues.

Environmental Preservation

"The transportation business is all about moving people and goods efficiently without unduly disturbing the environment or the local communities through which our services must pass," said MdTA Chairman O. James Lighthizer. In fact, concern for preserving the integrity of the wetlands and waterways along the construction zone has been at the fore of planning the dualization project. The Maryland Transportation Authority has worked with the State Department of Natural Resources, the Maryland Critical Areas Commission, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the Maryland Department of the Environment to find ways to mitigate the impact of the beltway expansion on the local environment.

During the first phase of the project, which entails construction of the second Bear Creek Bridge, plans call for building the structure's foundation at water level, effectively minimizing disturbances to sediment and effects on wildlife.

Further plans call for building a tidal marsh under the northern approach to the Key Bridge. A forested buffer area consisting of trees and shrubs such as red maple, inkberry, and myrtle will also be created near the toll plaza. A couple of miles to the north, near the Route 151 interchange on I-695, a one-acre non-tidal wetland will be created and trees and shrubs will become part of the landscape near Route 151.

Special attention will be given to a destructive marsh weed called phragmite, which, in recent years, has proliferated in area waterways and tributaries at the expense of other, more beneficial marsh grasses. An experiment to destroy the phragmite in the public park in Turner's Station, a community adjacent to the Key Bridge, should help environmentalists assess the viability of eradicating other growths of this weed throughout the area.

"We are an organization that is committed to total quality and excellence," said the Authority's Executive Secretary Stephen L. Reich. "The dualization of the southeast section of the Baltimore Beltway will enable us to enhance our level of customer service for those who use the Francis Scott Key Bridge and its approaches and roadway."

Construction of the first phase of the project will be performed by a joint venture between McLean Contracting Company of Baltimore, Maryland and G.A. & F.C. Wagman of York, Pennsylvania. Other participants in the project include the US Coast Guard, Baltimore County, and the communities of Turner's Station and Edgemere.
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Title Annotation:Maryland Transportation Authority's road construction project
Publication:Public Works
Date:Jan 1, 1995
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