This stormwater bioretention facility, built into a terraced retaining wall adjacent to the College Creek Bridge abutment, is one of five such units serving the two bridges.
Decorative pavers in the Weems Creek Bridge median form a serpentine design representing a meandering creek. Water runoff drains to the middle of the median for collection. The 15-foot-wide median can be removed if necessary in the future to provide additional capacity. Photos: KCI Technologies Inc.

The scenario is familiar to any infrastructure manager spearheading a major project in a historic district. Neighboring residents are concerned about traffic and noise. Business owners want capacity improvements and growth. Citizens fear losing the community's historic character. Environmental groups worry about pollution and habitat degradation. And politicians want to please them all.

The Maryland State Highway Administration (MSHA) was faced with juggling these competing demands in the reconstruction of two bridges feeding into Annapolis, the 350-year-old state capital. “Trying to come up with a solution that satisfied all these parties was very challenging at the start,” says Jeff Robert, MSHA project engineer. “We had very little buy-in.”

About a mile apart on Maryland Route 70, the bridges over Weems Creek and College Creek traverse urban residential neighborhoods and two tidal creeks that flow into the Severn River, a designated state Scenic River and tributary to Chesapeake Bay. The two four-lane bridges, built in the 1950s and carrying approximately 70,000 vehicles daily, had deteriorated beyond routine repairs. MSHA decided to rehabilitate the College Creek Bridge and replace the Weems Creek Bridge.

The initial controversy over the proposed project made it clear that garnering community support should be the top priority. In spring 2001, MSHAlaunched the design process by forming advisory committees made up of stakeholders. Elected officials invited constituents to join them on these task forces, which also included business owners, engineers, planners, contractors, and regulatory agencies. “The project team couldn't be more diverse,” says Robert Lynch, project manager with design firm KCI Technologies Inc., Hunt Valley, Md. “Nearly 80 people were involved from project design concept to finished construction.”

The Architectural Review Committee conferred about color schemes, construction materials, lighting, signage, landscaping, and other aesthetic elements. The Environmental Review Committee handled details such as construction access, wetland impacts, and selection of mitigation sites. MSHA hired an independent community liaison, Steve Carr, to facilitate the committee meetings, field questions and complaints, and maintain a daily issues log.

For the next year, these two groups convened monthly with MSHA in public meetings. “Agood portion of our time was spent on the Weems Creek Bridge, the surrounding retaining walls, wetland mitigation, landscaping, and construction disturbance,” says Lynch. Committee members reviewed renderings and approved material samples and test panels. Design changes that arose from these meetings included:

  • Narrowing traffic lanes and raising the bridge parapet to reduce vehicle speeds and diminish resulting roadway noise.
  • Widening sidewalks from 5 feet to 7 feet and shoulders for cyclists from 2 feet to 4 feet on the College Creek Bridge.
  • Adding a 5-foot-wide sidewalk on the Weems Creek Bridge.
  • Creating a pedestrian scenic overlook on the College Creek Bridge.

Armed with cameras, KCI's landscape architects hit the streets to perform historical research. They surveyed and photographed buildings and structures associated with nearby St. Johns College, the U.S. Naval Academy, and the State House. The architects used the photos to develop concepts, establish scale, and select materials. The resulting Classical Georgian design uses brick, precast concrete panels, ornamental granite, wrought iron, and concrete site-cast in decorative form liners. Finishing touches include brick accent paving, plaques, landscaping, and decorative lighting and fencing.

The design was completed and the project advertised for public bid in the fall of 2003. MSHA selected Annapolis Junction-based contractor Corman Construction, which began construction in the spring of 2004.

The success of the citizen design committee model prompted MSHA to form a similar task force for the construction phase. The Residents Committee tackled problems such as equipment noise, ground vibrations, and traffic issues. The committee requested enhancements that required significant design changes during construction. Despite these changes, cost overruns were held to less than 2%.