A community group that wants to replace the Columbia Bridge urged County Executive Ken Ulman at a budget hearing on Wednesday to consider using county money to replace the current bridge that spans U.S. 29 with a new larger one, according to Explore Howard.
Bridge Columbia, the group pushing for a new bridge, wants to replace the current 28-year-old overpass—which accomodates only pedestians and bicycle traffic—with one that also will allow for bus traffic. Among the complaints the group has with the current bridge is that it looks unsafe and that its enclosed design makes walkers feel trapped.
A new bridge is expected to cost between $10 million and $15 million, according to proponents, and they suggest that 80 percent of the cost could be paid for with federal grants.
Oakland Mills Village Board chairwoman Abby Hendrix asked for $200,000 to $300,000 be allocated in the county’s budget to fund an engineering and environmental study that would allow the county to apply for federal and state funds, Explore Howard reported.
County Executive Ken Ulman said he was “undecided” on whether to include the bridge request in his budget, according to Explore Howard. The news report cited Ulman’s concerns about whether the bridge would increase bus ridership and whether it was true that the bridge could be mostly paid for with grant money.
Fred Gottemoeller, a bridge engineer and architect involved with Bridge Columbia, said he believed the current bridge was structurally sound, but that other problems such as vandalism plagued the bridge.
“If you use the bridge as a pedestrian or a bicyclist you feel really threatened when you’re on it,” Gottemoeller told Patch. “It’s one of those environments that appears to be out of control.”
In a previous story about the bridge on Patch published in January, residents wrote in the comments that the cost of the bridge may outweigh the benefits.
“I’m troubled that ‘looks unsafe’ and is ‘ugly’ is being used as the reason to spend a lot of money when verified problems are unresolved,” wrote Cathy Eshmont, “I question installing artificial turf at high schools and replacing bridges with no science behind the need for their replacement as ‘nice to have’ after all the necessities have been addressed.”
Gottemoeller said the main reason to build the new bridge, which would allow for buses and emergency vehicles but not private passenger vehicles, is to promote public transportation.
He also contended that by having buses and emergency vehicles frequently crossing the bridge, it would become less of a target for vandalism, and its more substantial design would promote a sense of safety.
“It’s pretty well established in the public safety world that the more eyes you have on something, the less vandals you have,” Gottemoeller said. “The other thing is that a wider bridge is going to feel safer and you’re not going to feel so confined when you’re on it. Right now you’re in a 10-square foot cage when you cross the bridge.”
Weigh in: Should Bridge Columbia be in the Howard County budget?