Baltimore City Plans Study to Determine the Future of the Hanover Street Bridge Corridor

| July 23, 2014 | 5 Comments

10422160_792415897464645_7681891649074009328_nThe different communities surrounding the Middle Branch in South Baltimore share a common frustration: the current condition of the Hanover Street Bridge. The bridge is a vital connection for people coming from Cherry Hill and Westport into Port Covington, the Port of Baltimore, and the communities of the South Peninsula, and vice versa. Hanover St., or Route 2, is also a key connection for people coming from Anne Arundel County into downtown Baltimore, and vice versa, as it transitions from Governor Ritchie Hwy.

The surface of the nearly 100-year-old Hanover Street Bridge, which was constructed in 1916 and is 2,023 feet long, has uneven steel plates and is covered with dangerous potholes that, even when patched, provide a bumpy surface. Local residents are concerned about the safety of pedestrians and cyclists crossing the bridge due to these conditions.

“The current bridge outdated itself decades ago and is in very poor shape. There is no shoulder so often you see cyclists and people walking, including parents pushing strollers, in the vehicular lane because they have no other option,” said Keisha Allen, president of the Westport Neighborhood Association.

With concerns rising about the condition of the bridge, the Baltimore City Department of Transportation (DOT) Chief of Bridge Engineering Scott Weaver told SouthBMore.com that the city decided it was time to figure out whether to “love it or list it,” referencing a popular HGTV show where homeowners decide whether to renovate their home or buy a new one.

“We are required to inspect the bridge every two years, but due to the age and condition of the bridge, we do it every year,” said Weaver.

The DOT is launching a $1.8 million study, called the Hanover Street Bridge Multimodal Corridor Plan, to identify feasible methods of rehabilitating or replacing the bridge with the goal of improving multimodal corridor accessibility and freight access, enhancing opportunities to economic and recreational opportunities, and improving the quality of life and safety of the corridor. In addition to the bridge, the plan also involves a 1.4 mile stretch of Hanover St. from Reedbird Ave. in Cherry Hill to Wells St. in the South Baltimore neighborhood.

The DOT is hoping to begin the study in 2014 or early 2015 and anticipate it will take approximately two years to complete. The study will include outreach to the local communities, a traffic impact study, an environmental study, a design study, an economic study, and more. The DOT will work with the Baltimore City Department of Planning, Baltimore Housing, the Department of Recreations and Parks, the Maryland Transit Administration, the Maryland Department of Transportation and Maryland State Highway Administration, the Maryland Port Administration, and the Baltimore City Health Department throughout the study.

To pay for the study, the DOT has requested $1.1 million in FY 2014 TIGER Discretionary Grant funds, which the department is waiting to find out if they will receive. The city has also secured $700,000 in matching funds.

The following graphic shows a breakdown of how that money would be spent:

Screen Shot 2014-07-23 at 10.54.07 AM (2)

It is estimated that a future plan for the bridge, or building a replacement, could cost anywhere from $10 million-$150 million. The funding for that would likely come from State and City Transportation funds and potentially federal funding as well. “The study will let us know what our options are and at that time we can then decide what we can afford,” said Weaver. He also noted that a renovation of the bridge could potentially be done incrementally over time, but also warned that certain improvements may only buy the city 10 more years with the current bridge.

The study will also evaluate the need for a draw span in the future, as the draw bridge on the current structure is rarely used. 

“The Cherry Hill community is generally supportive of any improvements to the Hanover Street Bridge. While we realize that the comprehensive repairs needed for the bridge may be cost prohibitive at this time, we recognize the dire need for immediate surface repairs. Temporary repairs to potholes created  each winter will not suffice,” said Micheal Middleton, chairman of the Cherry Hill Coalition. “The Hanover Street Bridge has and remains an important connection for the South Baltimore community and downtown Baltimore. This connection looms with greater importance with the opening of the Horseshoe Casino which promises to bring greater demand on our transportation infrastructure.”

As plans move forward, there are concerns from the DOT and local leaders that the current restraints and rough draw bridge surface of the bridge will never fit the pedestrian needs of the area.

“The bridge is nearly 100 years old and desperately needs to be replaced. It makes infinite sense to study ways to create a truly interconnected crossing for pedestrians, bikes and vehicles before spending the roughly $150 million it will cost to replace it,” said District 11 Baltimore City Councilman William Cole. “The bridge is vital and connects the South Baltimore peninsula to Harbor Hospital, the Southern District Police Station and many Port employers. Since construction or reconstruction of a replacement is going to be extremely expensive, challenging and disruptive, it is important to think of the Hanover Street Bridge as something other than just a crossing point for cars and trucks. Unfortunately, adding bike lanes and creating a safer pedestrian crossing are virtually impossible on the existing structure.”

The section of Hanover St. in Port Covington/South Baltimore from Wells St. to the north connection of the Hanover Street Bridge is also a problem area as it is currently very unfriendly to pedestrian traffic and accessibility to I-95 South from points north. Attractions such as Swann Park, the soon-to-open West Covington Park, and Nick’s Fish House are along the stretch, and huge redevelopment plans appear to be in the works for most of Port Covington.

“I am happy that the city is finally planning for the rebuilding of one of the most heavily used and most criticized pieces of infrastructure in South Baltimore. Hopefully, the plans will consider pedestrian and bike access to Swann Park, the new National Aquarium site, and Middle Branch Park, which are currently very difficult to travel to without a car. The entire peninsula is in the midst of a great renaissance and it is important for our roads and access ways to keep up,” said Morgan Alcalay, president of the South Baltimore Neighborhood Association.

As pedestrian accessibility is considered and potentially improved for the Hanover Street Bridge Corridor, it could pave the way for a future walking and biking loop around the Middle Branch which was revealed in the Westport Waterfront plan. The Westport Waterfront, a billion dollar-plus, 50-acre development planned for the shores of Westport, has experienced recent delays due to a foreclosure proceeding, but could now be back on track.

The proposed loop would include the Hanover Street Bridge; Middle Branch Park, which already has a path as part of the Gwynns Falls Trail; the promenade of the to-be-constructed Westport Waterfront; a rehabilitation of Spring Gardens Bridge, which was once used for trains; and, a path to be constructed through West Covington.

This is an idea that would create another vital connection for Westport. “In Westport’s TIGER plan, we have already asked for a pedestrian bridge that extends over the Middle Branch from our historic Kloman Field into Swann Park. This alone will give us much closer and direct access to Port Covington and the Hanover Street Bridge without having to drive,” said Allen.

With movement on the Westport Waterfront currently delayed and with the city focused on the Hanover Street Bridge, funding and feasibility for such a project are not currently a priority at this time, but an improved bridge could make that plan one step closer to a future reality.

About the Author:

Founder and Publisher of SouthBmore.com, longtime resident of South Baltimore, and a graduate of Towson University. Diehard Ravens and O's fan, beach volleyball enthusiast, dog lover, and "bar food" foodie. Email me at [email protected] and follow me on Twitter at @SoBoKevin.
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