- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 14, 2006

A 100-foot unmanned barge carrying tons of rock broke loose from a construction site north of Annapolis yesterday and smashed into one of the pylons that supports the Severn River Bridge, forcing authorities to shut down the Route 50 traffic span for several hours.

Maryland State Police spokesman Sgt. Russell Newell said police feared a catastrophic situation when the U.S. Coast Guard notified them at 10:19 a.m. that the barge was drifting south and likely would hit the bridge within 15 minutes.

By 10:22 a.m., police closed traffic on the bridge in both directions. The barge struck the bridge, which is north of the U.S. Naval Academy, and became lodged between pylons, lengthwise.

Several chunks of concrete fell from the underside of the bridge, but there were no signs of structural damage.

No one was injured, and there were no accidents on the bridge, Sgt. Newell said.

The barge dislodged itself from the bridge as workers struggled to control it in the face of a stiff wind blowing down the river, and began drifting south.

At 11:15 a.m., the Coast Guard dispatched a 41-foot boat to join a Maryland Natural Resources Police boat to try to control the barge and prevent any damage. Crews managed to moor the barge to a pylon.

Authorities twice closed the Route 450 bridge, just south of the Severn River Bridge, as officials assessed whether it was in danger.

Maryland State Police closed Route 50 to traffic in both directions while highway officials inspected the Severn River Bridge from boats underneath.

“We are lucky it was just cosmetic damage,” said Valerie Burnette Edgar, a spokeswoman for the Maryland State Highway Administration. “The concrete damage did not affect the integrity of the bridge whatsoever.”

Mrs. Edgar said the six-lane span, which carries 126,000 vehicles a day, would not require any repairs.

During the incident, authorities redirected traffic onto Route 450.

Route 50 traffic backed up about five miles on either side of the Severn River Bridge. At 11:42 a.m., police breached a jersey wall west of the bridge so that motorists could make a U-turn and exit.

Authorities reopened the Route 50 corridor to traffic about 1 p.m.

Traffic flow returned to normal in time for the afternoon rush hour, state highway officials said.

Sgt. Newell said the barge was being used to build a jetty on the river shore.

The barge is owned by Langenfelder Marine Inc. in Stevensville, Md., said Lt. Andrew Ely, a spokesman for the U.S. Coast Guard.

The barge was loaded with chunks of stone called riprap, which is used to prevent erosion on shorelines, he said.

Company representatives were investigating the incident.

Langenfelder, whose office is about 10 miles from the Severn River Bridge, dispatched a tugboat to help release the barge and tow it away.

Shortly after noon, tugboats began towing the barge to Baltimore, where the Coast Guard will investigate how it broke loose and assess its condition.

Barbara Verbrycke, who lives near the bridge, said the barge appeared to be in a different position Monday from where it was moored Sunday.

“I thought yesterday that it had been moved. My husband said, ‘No, it was tied to a buoy,’” Mrs. Verbrycke said. “But, evidently it must have broken loose at some point.”

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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