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A major national public works project got a big boost this week, one that could turn into a major financial windfall for Harford and Cecil counties.

Replacement of the 105-year-old Amtrak railroad bridge spanning the Susquehanna River between Havre de Grace and Perryville received $22 million in initial funding from the federal government, Maryland’s congressional delegation announced Monday.

The $22 million is only for the first phase of the project, a study phase that includes some environmental work.

The entire project is expected to cost more than $800 million.

Even the study phase, however, will create 104 jobs in the state over the next three years, according to the Maryland Department of Transportation.

And, down the road, a construction project of that magnitude is likely to mean many more jobs and work for local contractors and suppliers.

Construction of the current Amtrak bridge, completed on May 29, 1906, as well as the nearby CSX (B&O) Railroad bridge completed in 1908, brought thousands of workers to the area, some of whom settled permanently in Harford and Cecil counties.

Similar local economic booms occurred during the construction of Conowingo Dam between 1926 and 1928, the Route 40 Hatem Bridge in the late 1930s and the I-95 Millard Tydings Bridge in the early 1960s.

The existing Amtrak bridge, a center span swing drawbridge, has two tracks and a speed limit of 90 miles per hour, which makes it narrower and slower than many of the other bridges on the rest of Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor line.

The plan is to enlarge the bridge to four tracks with an operating speed up to 200 miles per hour.

The bridge is owned by Amtrak and carries 100 Amtrak intercity passenger trains, MARC commuter trains and freight trains daily.

Amtrak and MARC forecast that number will more than double in the next two decades.

Jack Cahalan, a spokesman for MDOT, said the study phase for the bridge replacement will start in the next six to 10 months and will take two to three years to complete.

Cahalan said it’s too early to say how the project will play out, in terms of rerouting train traffic or other technical problems, as well as what specific design will emerge for the replacement bridge.

“We are literally on the first page of what will be a really long novel,” he said Tuesday.

After the first phase, “there’s a lot of legwork to be done in terms of identifying funding,” he said.

Cahalan said Gov. Martin O’Malley identified the Amtrak Susquehanna bridge in February as one of those in Maryland that needs major funding.

“It’s something that we have identified for quite some time as bridges that are ultimately going to need to be replaced,” he said.
Replacing the Susquehanna bridge, or any other identified bridges, is not urgent, Cahalan said.

“They are safe today and structurally sound,” he said.

“At 105 years, you know it will ultimately need to be replaced,” he added.

Cahalan said the project will ultimately involve working with local stakeholders, but the study phase does not include any planned community outreach.

He said residents should not notice anything significant happening to the bridge during the study phase.

The state has also applied for funding to start engineering and environmental studies on two more aging Amtrak bridges in Harford County, over the Bush and Gunpowder rivers.

The funding announced Monday for the Susquehanna bridge project is part of more than $2 billion that the federal government has made available to other states after a high-speed rail project was killed by a new state administration in Florida, according to a press release by the Maryland Department of Transportation.

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