MD: Amtrak Officials Have Many Options for Susquehanna Rail Bridge

Aug. 28--A lengthy process remains ahead for Amtrak officials as they work with community leaders on both sides of the Susquehanna River to determine whether to replace or rehabilitate the 108-year-old rail bridge over the river.

"I still think it's too soon to tell," Havre de Grace Mayor Wayne Dougherty said Wednesday when asked about the potential impact to his city.

He noted officials with Amtrak, a national passenger rail organization, are still weighing their options regarding the project.

The process of public outreach, planning, environmental assessment and engineering is expected to last through 2017, according to a project website established by Amtrak at http://www.susrailbridge.com.

Community meetings to provide information were held in Perryville on Aug. 13 and in Havre de Grace in late April.

"Per the NEPA (The National Environmental Policy Act) process, Amtrak is seeking input on a wide array of social and environmental impacts this project could have on the community," Amtrak spokeswoman Kimberly Woods said in an email. "These public meetings are important as we are considering everything from parks and natural resource to historic places and community facilities."

Woods said Amtrak will seek community input through the summer of 2015.

Dougherty said he plans to introduce a resolution during the Sept. 15 city council meeting to create an Amtrak advisory board made up of five to six people from the Havre de Grace area, including a liaison from the council.

If the council approves the resolution, Dougherty said members of the advisory board would meet about every three months and communicate regularly with Amtrak officials.

Havre de Grace and Perryville officials have expressed concerns about the impact to community facilities, homes and businesses, depending on where a new route is placed, if at all.

"I need a lot more information from them, and this is the reason I'm appointing this advisory board," Dougherty said.

The two-track, 4,154-foot long bridge, which Amtrak has owned since 1976, was built in and it is used for freight and intercity and commuter rail traffic.

Amtrak officials describe the bridge as having "an obsolete design and aging infrastructure, creates speed and rail capacity constraints, is operationally inflexible, poses maintenance difficulties, and creates conflicts with marine traffic," according to a fact sheet provided by Woods.

The most recent rehabilitation of the structure took place in 1998, with the last inspection was in 2013, according to the fact sheet.

The bridge is considered safe, but is "nearing the end of its useful life," Amtrak notes in the fact sheet.

Options include rehabilitating the existing bridge, a portion of which can be opened for boat traffic, building one new bridge; building a new bridge and rehabilitating the existing one and building two new bridges.

A new bridge could be along a route on either side of the current bridge, or the existing route; officials are also considering having a "separate structure" for passenger trains, or keeping the passenger and freight traffic together.

Amtrak has established a study area spanning about five miles, which includes the bridge and the approaches to it from Perryville and Havre de Grace, around the current rail line.

Several Havre de Grace parks, churches, as well as Havre de Grace Middle School and the Havre de Grace Activity Center, are within that study area, according to maps posted on the Amtrak site.

The historic Rodgers Tavern, the Perryville MARC commuter rail station, town hall, two parks, a Delmarva Power substation and part of the Perry Point VA Medical Center property are among the Perryville landmarks in the study area.

Amtrak officials weighed 18 potential alignments for alternative routes, and they have reduced that figure to nine.

Those routes will go through a detailed screening to review environmental impacts, operations and design factors and any impact to surrounding properties, according to the website.

Perryville Mayor James Eberhardt said any routes north of the bridge "would have tremendous impacts on the town of Perryville, because you're talking about the railroad station and Rodgers Tavern."

Unlike Havre de Grace, Perryville has a commuter station that is the current northern terminus of the MARC Penn line to Baltimore and Washington, D.C.

Eberhardt said the bridge location could also affect homes in the area.

Eberhardt said building a new bridge to the south would have less of an impact, because it could follow the path of previous bridges.

"It's a long-term project," the mayor said. "It's not anything that going to impact us tomorrow, but they've kept the community pretty much informed."

Copyright 2014 - The Aegis, Bel Air, Md.

Loading