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The word Charles County received in October from state transportation officials was that a new U.S. 301 bridge in Newburg was a top priority for the state. Officials had been lobbying for years that something needed to be done to the Gov. Harry W. Nice Memorial Bridge. Itís old, and itís inadequate for the amount of traffic that uses it every day.

Making good on their promise to move the project along, Maryland Transportation Authority officials completed the planning studies and the findings were released last week. Plans are to replace the existing two-span bridge linking Charles County with Virginia with a four-lane bridge just to the north of the current structure. There will be a shoulder for disabled vehicles and a path for pedestrians and bicyclists. The plans call for the sidewalk and roadway to be separated by a barrier to protect walkers and bikers.

It sounds like a great plan. Even one Charles County commissioner was pleased to learn about the pedestrian and biker path. Commissioner Ken Robinson noted the popularity of the same feature on the Woodrow Wilson Bridge over the Potomac River in Oxon Hill.

As with many great plans comes a big price tag. MdTA estimates that it will cost $850 million to build the new bridge. Robinson said he wouldnít be surprised if it ends up costing $1 billion.

So the good news is that there is a plan, but the plan, unfortunately, comes with a warning label: ďUpon completion of the final environmental document in 2012, this project will become a candidate for MDTA capital improvement project funds. Currently, no funding is available for future phases, including final design, right-of-way and construction.Ē

So where does that leave Charles County?

Obviously there is no money for the project, so nothing gets started anytime soon. Right now, there seems to be no political will to raise transportation dollars at either the state or federal levels. President Obama used to talk about investing in the countryís infrastructure, but there isnít much talk of that today. As Congress grapples with the countryís financial situation, itís probably more likely that there will be less money going around in the future. At the state level, there probably wonít be any new talk of raising tolls since the state just went through the painful process of doing so.

So the news doesnít translate into any real-world impact anytime soon. Backups at the bridge will continue. Minor accidents will still close it down and traffic will come to a halt. The one bright spot on the horizon is that with the planning complete, it means that when funds do become available it should be ready to proceed.