Think­ing big doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily in­clude an­other Bay Bridge

Cecil Whig - - OPINION - Com­mu­nity Voice From: ROB ETGEN


While it is ad­mirable to hear the gov­er­nor’s con­cerns about traf­fic at the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay Bridge, an an­nounce­ment fo­cus­ing on a shiny new bridge lacks any real dis­cus­sion about cost, im­pact on com­mu­ni­ties, and the un­der­stand­ing that a sprawl­ing flood of peo­ple, traf­fic and pave- ment can de­tract from ru­ral Mary­land.

There is a large and grow­ing body of ev­i­dence and near con­sen­sus that our con­ven­tional ap­proach of solv­ing traf­fic con­ges­tion by in­creas­ing road­way ca­pac­ity is in­ef­fec­tive over the long term. The most im­me­di­ate ex­am­ple that comes to my mind is Route 1 in Delaware — an ex­pen­sive, new north-south high­way in Delaware that was over ca­pac­ity start­ing with the day it opened. Con­cur­rent with the high­way con­struc­tion was mas­sive amounts of sprawl hous­ing in south­ern New Cas­tle County, Del., which im­me­di­ately over­whelmed the new in­fras­truc­ture.

We are long over­due for a more mod­ern ap­proach to trans­porta­tion plan­ning — one that em­pha­sizes mass tran­sit and other for­ward­think­ing mea­sures that make the most out of the in­fras­truc­ture we have, and em­pha­sizes land use de­ci­sions that de­crease auto de­pen­dence and in­crease trans­porta­tion choices. What about ex­panded bus ser­vices with a stronger back­bone ser­vice from Bal­ti­more and Washington to Ocean City, stop­ping in key pop­u­la­tion cen­ters and com­ple­men­tary ser­vice from ru­ral ar­eas to the back­bone stops? Or pub­licpri­vate part­ner­ships such as a high-speed ferry op­tion? And should an even­tual new bridge be built, what about re­vis­it­ing pas­sen­ger rail (which used to ex­ist on the Shore)?

With de­clin­ing gas tax rev­enues, chang­ing liv­ing pref­er­ences for mil­len­ni­als, and a warm­ing planet caused in part by our poor trans­porta­tion habits, the time is now for fresh think­ing.

Fresh think­ing on the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay Bridge sit­u­a­tion could also in­clude ideas such as set­ting up telecom­mut­ing cen­ters in our East­ern Shore small towns, and work poli­cies such that state and fed­eral em­ploy­ees could work from the Shore on peak traf­fic days or even more of­ten, in turn sav­ing fuel, pol­lu­tion and traf­fic while also stim­u­lat­ing the vi­brancy of our towns. Im­ple­ment­ing new tolling tech­nolo­gies and poli­cies which do away with the toll booths, in­creas­ing rates dur­ing peak use pe­ri­ods and de­creas­ing rates for high oc­cu­pancy ve­hi­cles is yet an­other di­rec­tion that could be ex­plored for con­sid­er­ably less money.

Th­ese ideas and many oth­ers can be done now and for very lit­tle cost rel­a­tive to a new Bay Bridge. Spend­ing $5 mil­lion to study the en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pacts of a new Bay Bridge feels like fid­dling while Rome burns. Let’s talk about the things we can do to­day to re­lieve con­ges­tion im­me­di­ately, then think about what might be needed to man­age cross Bay travel de­mand over the long term, and only there­after con­sider whether a new bridge is worth its con­sid­er­able fi­nan­cial and en­vi­ron­men­tal cost.

Rob Etgen is the ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the East­ern Shore Land Con­ser­vancy.

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