We’ve been getting too big for our bridges for years in Southern Maryland.
But at least for one span in the region, things are looking up. The Gov. Harry W. Nice Memorial/Senator Thomas “Mac” Middleton Bridge, a two-lane span which connects Charles County to King George County, Va., on U.S. 301, is getting rebuilt for an estimated $769 million. Like most such road projects not in the Washington-Baltimore corridor, it hadn’t gotten much state attention until recently. Good thing, because the state estimates traffic will double across that bridge by 2040. The only sticking point in the plans seems to be whether there should be a middle lane of five for bicyclist and pedestrian access. We have argued for that lane in this space, and continue to favor it.
The Gov. Thomas Johnson Bridge over the Patuxent between Solomons and California seems to be the odd span out in virtually every discussion. Maryland is more concerned with widening the Washington Beltway or not, fiddling more with the Intercounty Connector between Montgomery and Prince George’s or not, and building or not building the Purple Line for Metro. Rural Maryland continues to have little say, even though the Johnson bridge could prove to be an important lifeline in an evacuation situation. And of course, rush-hour traffic on Route 235 could be mitigated if that bridge had, say, four lanes.
Thank goodness the only complaints about the two-lane Route 231 bridge over a narrower, shallower portion of the Patuxent between Benedict and western Calvert are from motorists who have to stop for the occasional ship passing through the drawbridge.
But the bridge that is Topic A these days is the 4-miler that goes across the Chesapeake Bay, five lanes in two spans (or 20 lane-miles). The Gov. William Preston Lane Jr. Memorial Bridge has been the subject of a $5 million study of how best to relieve traffic congestion.
The Maryland Transportation Authority has distilled 14 original extra bridge options down to three. Another choice is to build nothing at all. This will all be part of a presentation by MTA tomorrow, Thursday, Sept. 26, at Calvert High School in Prince Frederick from 6 to 8 p.m. This will be the only public bridge hearing in Southern Maryland of the six that are planned, so here’s your chance to speak.
The three remaining options to build new spans all start in Anne Arundel County. One is north of the current bridge connecting Pasadena with Rock Hall. There’s another choice south of the Lane bridge that would link Mayo to Easton. Finally, something could be constructed next to the existing spans connecting Sandy Point and Kent Island. Of the three choices, that would likely be the best and least disruptive one — although the price tag would certainly be in the billions of dollars. And state officials haven’t said when a crossing would be built, how much it would cost or how the state would pay for it. However, the study notes that an alignment next to the current bridge would be the shortest, at 22 lane-miles, which probably would make it the least expensive of those under consideration.
But there’s no need to be in a hurry.
Smart Growth Maryland supports the no-build option, and we tend to agree. In a statement, the group writes, “Construction of a new span anywhere [would] create considerable development pressure. The construction of a new crossing and new access roads or major upgrades to existing roads [would] also hinder Maryland’s goal of achieving a 40% reduction in vehicle emissions by 2030.”
And we agree with The Baltimore Sun, which said, “Building nothing doesn’t mean doing nothing. It would mean investing in low-impact alternatives like ferries, rapid bus service, off-peak toll pricing and other, smarter and less costly approaches.”
The Sun goes on to say, “the rural Eastern Shore is already suffering under development pressure as wetlands and other critical habitat are lost to condos and waterfront construction. Meanwhile, the region is especially vulnerable to sea level rise. Indeed, because of climate the state’s own scientists have forecast a possible two-foot rise by 2050.
That raises the question: Would the third span be to improve traffic flow or accommodate an evacuation of the waterfront? The irony is that vehicle exhaust is a prime source of excess greenhouse gases.”
So go to the public hearing Thursday. See if you agree with us that while traffic may be clogging up our bridges in Southern Maryland, there’s no urgency to do anything with the bay bridge.