Thinking big doesn’t necessarily include another Bay Bridge
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.