Ho­gan plans $765 mil­lion re­place­ment of Nice Bridge in South­ern Md.


The Bal­ti­more Sun

— Repub­li­can Gov. Larry Ho­gan an­nounced plans Mon­day to re­place the Harry W. Nice Memo­rial Bridge in South­ern Mary­land — and to wage a po­lit­i­cal fight with the leg­is­la­ture over trans­porta­tion pol­icy.

The two-fold an­nounce­ment at the base of the bridge launched a mas­sive in­fra­struc­ture project, and set the stage for a war of words when the Demo­cratic-con­trolled Gen­eral As­sem­bly con­venes in Jan­uary.

The Nice Bridge car­ries U.S. 301 from Charles County over the Po­tomac River to Vir­ginia. The steep, nar­row, two-lane span is the only cross­ing of that river south of the Cap­i­tal Belt­way. It has no shoul­der and lacks a me­dian to sep­a­rate op­pos­ing traf­fic.

Lo­cal of­fi­cials say a flat tire can cause hours-long back­ups that stretch for miles. But the


cost of re­plac­ing the 76-yearold steel bridge has been es­ti­mated at up to $1 bil­lion.

Ho­gan an­nounced plans Mon­day for a $765 mil­lion re­place­ment that would open in 2023. Ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials said the state could trim costs by build­ing a bridge lower to the water over a deeper river chan­nel about 100 feet north of the cur­rent span.

The re­place­ment bridge would be funded in part with toll rev­enue, which the state’s trans­porta­tion sec­re­tary said is on the rise. Sec­re­tary Pete Rahn said last year’s toll cuts prompted a traf­fic in­crease that gen­er­ated $62 mil­lion more than the state ex­pected.

All of that money would be spent on the bridge. Rahn said fu­ture pro­jected toll wind­falls would also be spent on the bridge.

“Mary­lan­ders de­serve bet­ter than the daily con­ges­tion caused by the cur­rent bridge,” Ho­gan said. “And with the con­struc­tion of this new bridge, they will fi­nally get it.”

State Sen. Thomas M. “Mac” Mid­dle­ton, a Charles County Demo­crat, pushed for the bridge’s re­place­ment for more than a decade. He wel­comed Ho­gan’s an­nounce­ment.

“My hat’s off to them,” he said. “In my opin­ion, this is a win-win for the ad­min­is­tra­tion, for the trans­porta­tion author­ity, and the ci­ti­zens of South­ern Mary­land and the peo­ple who use the Harry Nice Bridge.”

Todd Eberly, a po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tist at St. Mary’s Col­lege, said Ho­gan was wise to re­place the bridge be­cause South­ern Mary­land is a po­lit­i­cally im­por­tant re­gion.

“It’s also a good time to be in­vest­ing in in­fra­struc­ture, be­cause in­ter­est rates are so in­cred­i­bly low,” Eberly said. “This is a bridge that has long since needed to be re­placed.”

Ho­gan’s an­nounce­ment fol­lowed ap­proval by the Mary­land Trans­porta­tion Author­ity board. The author­ity over­sees the bridge and other toll fa­cil­i­ties in the state.

Be­fore the an­nounce­ment, Ho­gan ac­cused the leg­is­la­ture of try­ing to thwart his abil­ity to build the bridge.

He also vowed to re­peal a sep­a­rate trans­porta­tion project scor­ing bill that he has al­ready ve­toed. He said the “dis­grace­ful” leg­is­la­tion “threat­ens to kill most of the des­per­ately needed trans­porta­tion projects.”

The leg­is­la­ture over­rode Ho­gan’s veto. Leg­isla­tive an­a­lysts dis­agree about the bill’s ef­fect.

Law­mak­ers had their own plan for re­plac­ing the Nice Bridge. They ap­proved leg­is­la­tion this year re­quir­ing the state to set aside $26 mil­lion an­nu­ally for a span that would open by 2030. They feared that Ho­gan’s de­ci­sion to cut tolls would stran­gle the fund­ing source for the re­place­ment.

Ho­gan ve­toed their leg­is­la­tion and vowed to fight any at­tempt at an over­ride when the Gen­eral As­sem­bly con­venes in Jan­uary.

Ho­gan said he al­ways sup­ported re­plac­ing the Nice Bridge. Mid­dle­ton said he re­called the ad­min­is­tra­tion say­ing too few ve­hi­cles used the bridge to make re­plac­ing it worth­while. Rahn told law­mak­ers this year that the ex­ist­ing bridge could re­main in ser­vice an­other 30 years.

Mid­dle­ton, who chairs the Se­nate Fi­nance Com­mit­tee, said the leg­is­la­tion that Ho­gan ve­toed played a valu­able role in en­sur­ing a re­place­ment bridge. He said he hoped the bill would bring the Repub­li­can ad­min­is­tra­tion to the negotiating table.

“I wanted to work with the gover­nor,” Mid­dle­ton said. “I still want to work with the gover­nor.”

He said he would take Ho­gan’s crit­i­cism “as just pol­i­tics.”

Mid­dle­ton said he was asked by the ad­min­is­tra­tion not to at­tend Ho­gan’s news con­fer­ence.

He said it was the first time in more than 20 years as a leg­is­la­tor that he was dis­in­vited from a gu­ber­na­to­rial an­nounce­ment in his district.

A spokes­woman for Ho­gan said no law­mak­ers were in­vited.

“Se­na­tor Mid­dle­ton in par­tic­u­lar was not in­vited to take part in this press con­fer­ence be­cause he did ab­so­lutely noth­ing to make this an­nounce­ment pos­si­ble,” spokes­woman Amelia Chasse said. “In fact, the ac- tions he did take only made to­day’s an­nounce­ment more dif­fi­cult.”

Eberly said not invit­ing Mid­dle­ton and other lo­cal law­mak­ers showed Ho­gan was un­will­ing to share credit.

“It’s un­for­tu­nately the re­al­ity of pol­i­tics,” Eberly said. “It would have been a great op­por­tu­nity to high­light bi­par­ti­san co­op­er­a­tion.”

Con­struc­tion of the new bridge would be funded with toll rev­enue and debt that Rahn de­scribed as “a much more so­phis­ti­cated” fi­nanc­ing scheme than in other projects. It in­volves re­fi­nanc­ing three bonds and pay­ing off a fourth early, plus trim­ming about $25 mil­lion a year in state trans­porta­tion projects.

Rahn said no other projects will be can­celed or de­layed in or­der to build the bridge.

The re­place­ment bridge would be wide enough to ac­com­mo­date four lanes of traf­fic — two in each di­rec­tion — plus a pedes­trian and bike path, of­fi­cials said.

Ho­gan laid out a time­line that would let com­pa­nies bid on the project in 2018, let con­struc­tion be­gin in 2020 and open the bridge to traf­fic in 2023.

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