U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin offered late last week to work with Gov. Larry Hogan to identify federal funds that could be used to construct a dedicated lane for bicyclists and pedestrians on the new Gov. Harry W. Nice Memorial/Senator Thomas “Mac” Middleton Bridge.
In a letter to Hogan (R) dated Thursday, Cardin (D) wrote that he is “eager to work with you to ensure that funding is available to include a protected trail for bicyclists and pedestrians” for the bridge that connects Charles County with King George County in Virginia. “Such a trail would substantially expand the bridge’s benefits for our economy and our transportation networks,” the letter said.
The Maryland Department of Transportation originally announced that the design of the replacement bridge, the construction of which is expected to begin early next year, would include a separate biker-pedestrian lane.
However, the department subsequently announced that it would ask bidders to prepare separate cost estimates for the bridge design with and without the biker-pedestrian lane.
Supporters of a dedicated lane have expressed concern that this approach would allow the state to reject the inclusion of the lane solely on cost grounds.
Cardin’s letter emphasized the value of a dedicated lane for regional tourism and recreation, saying that the bridge offers “a rare opportunity to expand and diversify our transportation options and to incorporate access for active, non-vehicular transportation modes.”
In addition to encouraging the state to apply for funds from the Transportation Alternatives Program, which Congress established to help states pay for bike- and pedestrian-friendly transportation infrastructure projects, Cardin’s letter called attention to a grant program that had recently been established under the America’s Transportation Infrastructure Act specifically for use in bridge projects.
“I understand that funding large infrastructure projects such as this one presents a challenge, and I am eager to partner with you to meet this challenge,” Cardin wrote. “Failure to expend every reasonable effort to deliver this bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure as part of a new Gov. Harry W. Nice Memorial/Sen. Thomas “Mac” Middleton Bridge would be to pass up a key opportunity to shape our transportation systems of the future.”
Sue Walitsky, a spokesperson for Cardin’s office, told the Maryland Independent that the senator believes “every reasonable effort” should be made to include funding for the dedicated bike-pedestrian lane.
“Each year Maryland receives hundreds of millions of dollars as its apportionment of federal formula programs,” Walitsky said in an email. “These programs afford state [departments of transportation] considerable flexibility in the use of the funding, and so it would be reasonable to expect the State to use this flexibility and put some of its formula funding to include a pedestrian-bicycle path as part of a new bridge.”
Walitsky added that Cardin, the ranking Democrat on the Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee of the House Environment and Public Works Committee, is “hopeful” that Hogan will “carefully consider the perspectives of local government officials as well as a long-term view of the expected 100-year life of the bridge, and work collaboratively to ensure funding for [the] pedestrian and bicycle path.”
Late last month, Charles County Board of Commissioners’ President Reuben B. Collins II (D) urged the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments’ Transportation Planning Board to approve a funding plan for the replacement bridge proposed by the Maryland Transportation Authority based on verbal assurances that the agency would give the dedicated lane fair consideration.
Although the planning board did ultimately vote to approve the funding plan, several members voiced their concern over the state’s decision to make the lane optional in the first place.
The Transportation Planning Board includes representatives from Washington, D.C., and metropolitan-area counties in Maryland and Virginia as well as the state’s transportation agencies and other stakeholders.
James F. Ports Jr., the Maryland Transportation Authority’s executive director, told the Maryland Independent that his agency is “absolutely happy to work with Senator Cardin to fulfill his promise to look for additional federal funds.”
“Any time that we can get federal funds to help us with any of our projects, we’re happy to work with the Congressional delegation,” Ports said.
Ports confirmed that the transportation authority has asked bidders to submit bids for bridge designs both with and without the dedicated biker-pedestrian lane, but said that he was unable to discuss evaluation criteria for the bids because he is legally prohibited from being involved in the evaluation process at this stage.
U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D) told the Maryland Independent that he believes a dedicated lane will broaden the range of transit options available to residents and visitors alike.
“As we work to modernize infrastructure across our state, it’s crucial that we put the needs of our communities front and center,” Van Hollen said in a written statement. “I’m glad to see the state’s commitment to rebuilding the Nice/Middleton Bridge, and I urge them to make every effort to include a dedicated lane for bicyclists and pedestrians.”
“As a member of the [Senate] Appropriations Committee, I will continue working to fund programs that invest in local infrastructure,” Van Hollen added. “I encourage the state to seek federal dollars for this project and am standing by to support their efforts.”
The Maryland Independent understands that Van Hollen plans to send Hogan a letter of his own expressing his support for a separate bike-pedestrian lane.
U.S. Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md., 5th) said that he is also in favor of a separate lane for bikers and pedestrians on the new bridge.
“I will work with Senators Cardin and Van Hollen to identify federal funds that could be used to cover some of the costs of the new path,” Hoyer said in a written statement. “As the Charles County Commissioners have said, the addition of a new pedestrian and bike friendly path could help increase tourism in Charles County, provide an additional connection to Virginia, and expand our local economy.”
“Local governments know their communities best, and I believe they should have a say in what projects are best for the constituents they represent,” Hoyer said.
The state is accepting bids for the bridge design through the fall.