To ease congestion on and around the Gov. William Preston Lane Jr. Memorial Bridge over the Chesapeake Bay, the Maryland Transportation Authority is preliminarily recommending for public and federal consideration three potential new bridge alternatives in Anne Arundel County, along with an option not to build a bridge.
MDTA established the $5 million Bay Crossing Study to identify an alternate bridge corridor to provide additional capacity and connect Maryland’s shores across. The study identified 14 preferred corridors as alternatives. Four of the alternatives that were not advanced are in Calvert County and one is in St. Mary’s.
The recommended corridors, referred to as 6, 7 and 8, originate in Anne Arundel County and cross the bay to Kent, Queen Anne’s and Talbot counties. Alternative 7 is the addition of a third span to the existing bay bridge, which spans from Anne Arundel County to Queen Anne’s County on U.S. Route 50. Gov. Larry Hogan (R) has been vocal in support for a third span adjacent to the existing bridge.
“Data has determined that the three meet the purpose and need,” MDTA spokesperson Kelly Melham said at an MDTA open house Thursday in Prince Frederick, referring to adequate capacity, dependable and reliable travel times and flexibility to safely support maintenance and incident management.
The four proposed bridge crossing locations in Calvert were in Chesapeake Beach, Plum Point, St. Leonard and Cove Point. Lexington Park was the proposed location in St. Mary’s County. “The alternative corridors in Calvert are not being studied further,” Melham said to The Calvert Recorder.
Melham later clarified that until public comment is considered and approval is received from federal and cooperating agencies involved in the study, only then would the preliminary corridors that the study team is recommending become the final corridor alternatives to be carried forward.
“The four preliminary alternatives are still just that — a preliminary recommendation,” Melham qualified, leaving the door open for a possible revisiting of any of the potential corridors.
Last Thursday’s self-paced open house at Calvert High School was one of six events allowing the public to review and comment on the preliminary recommendations under Tier 1 of the study. Thirteen people attended.
During the two-hour open house, attendees were informed about the environmental review process dictated by the National Environmental Policy Act, which establishes regulations for federal construction projects, and more, as well as examines the project’s impact on the surrounding environment. The NEPA process also stresses public involvement.
“Getting public feedback is part of the NEPA process,” Melham said.
“The study team has received over 1,100 comments thus far,” MDTA bay crossing project manager Heather Lowe said.
In addition to evaluating potential corridors, Tier 1 included an assessment of existing and potentially expanded transportation to support additional capacity.
Lowe said ferry, bus transit services and traffic management tools (used to improve travel times) were explored and eliminated for Tier 1.
“We evaluated those alternatives and as a standalone, they don’t meet our needs,” Lowe said, noting they may be considered in Tier 2 of the studies in combination.
After an Oct. 9 open house in Queen Anne’s County, MDTA will begin analyzing the corridor alternatives and drafting a Tier 1 environmental impact statement.
The Tier 2 study would refine the purpose and need of the study, identify alignments within the preferred corridor, as well as include more detailed engineering of alternatives and provide an assessment of potential environmental impacts.
The public will have the opportunity to review and comment during the future study.
Lowe said funding has not been allocated for Tier 2.
MDTA stresses that Tier 1’s completion does not presume Tier 2’s initiation.
As for the trigger for Tier 2, Lowe said, “if a corridor alternative is recommended from the study and approved by [the Federal Highway Administration] Tier 1 would end.”
Public hearings are expected to be held in the fall of 2020, where MDTA will present the results of its analyses as well as announce the recommended preferred corridor alternative.
This study is not the first time Calvert County has dodged the bridge bullet. In the early 1960’s, Maryland conducted $1 million study for new bridge locations, which included a potential crossing between Cove Point to Dorchester County.
In 1964, the state chose the parallel span to the original bridge for a second bay crossing.