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Searching For An Answer To Bay Bridge Back-Ups

Chesapeake Bay bridge
Creative Commons
Chesapeake Bay bridge

Back in 2016, Gov. Larry Hogan announced a preliminary study for a third Chesapeake Bay crossing in hopes of relieving those inevitable weekend back-ups at the Bay Bridge.

The study, he said, “will allow us to narrow down the options and identify the potential location for a new Chesapeake Bay crossing.”

Five years and $5 million later, The Maryland Transportation Authority has completed that study. After looking at 14 potential corridors for that crossing from the top of the bay to just north of the Virginia line, the authority settled on the existing Route 50-301 corridor. It was a decision that raised the ire of stakeholders on both sides of the bridge.

“It fails to focus on the true traffic impacts to the bridge. It fails to focus on the environmental impact that a new bridge might cause,” complained Jay Falstad of the Queen Anne’s Conservation Association.

“They didn't consider a lot of the things that are being done to reduce traffic on the bridge,” added Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman, who pointed to the removal of toll booths and the switch to electronic tolling.

“The corridor is locked in,” argued Bill Nevell, of the Broadneck Council of Communities, a coalition of community groups along the Route 50 corridor on the Western Shore. “The corridor they picked is the same corridor that we have right now. It excludes all of the other alternatives that should be looked at.”

The study concluded the Route 50 corridor was the only one that wouldn’t require substantial new road building, wouldn’t hurt environmentally sensitive areas and wouldn’t lead to significant land use changes on the Eastern Shore.

And Heather Lowe, the authority’s project manager said it would be more effective in reducing back-ups.

“It's the best diversion route for overall incident management. And it is the shortest crossing that potentially resulting in the lowest overall environmental impact as well,” she said.

The study also found that building a third crossing elsewhere may take some of the traffic off the existing bridge, but not enough to make a real difference.

Jim Moran, a Queen Anne’s County Commissioner, called the conclusion inevitable, pointing out that “all roads lead to Rome.”

“For 50 years, every access road and every main artery has been pointed to the Bay Bridge,” he said. “If you want to get to the Eastern Shore, the Western Shore, it's only one crossing point. All of the arteries are leading there, so it does make perfect sense.”

Falstad, of the Queen Anne’s Conservation Association, however, points to a study by AKRF, a Hanover, Md., engineering firm, that says the state study inflated the traffic numbers. Even worse, he says the state report fails to focus on the environmental impacts of a new bridge.

“You, for the first time in decades, have dolphins coming up the Chesapeake Bay, going as far north as the Chester River, almost to Chestertown,” he said. “There’s nothing in the draft environmental assessment that even makes mention of anything like that.”

Pat Lynch, president of the Broadneck Council, said a third crossing on the US 50 corridor would destroy the peninsula between the Magothy and Severn rivers and decimate the roads that service businesses on either side of the highway.

It ought to be farther south, she said, maybe in Calvert County.

“We don't need to draw all this traffic up from the south to go over to a crossing,” she said. “It should be down there accessible to people in the south, so they don't have to come up here to cross the bay.”

But the transportation authority’s Lowe said they’ll respond to many of those concerns in future, more detailed studies.

“We would be looking at the impacts for not just the new crossing, whether it's a bridge or a bridge tunnel, but also the infrastructure to get to that crossing as well,” she said.

It’s unclear, however, when those studies might be completed because thus far, there is no money budgeted for them.

Transportation officials have held virtual hearings and two live, public hearings on the preliminary study and will accept written comments on it through the website,www.baycrossingstudy.com through May 10.

Joel McCord is a trumpet player who learned early in life that that’s no way to make a living.