Hogan orders study for a new bridge across Bay
ANNAPOLIS — The Maryland Transportation Authority will start a $5 million study this fall to explore options and potential funding for a new Chesapeake Bay crossing.
Gov. Larry Hogan, who ordered the study, made the announcement in Anne Arundel County Tuesday, Aug. 30, with the Bay Bridge as his backdrop.
“Whether you live in areas close to the bridge and travel to and from the Eastern Shore for work, whether you’re a farmer, a vacationer, a business owner, Marylanders from all across the state depend on being able to cross the Chesapeake Bay,” Hogan said.
The first span of the Bay Bridge — officially named the William Preston Lane Jr. Memorial Bridge — was built in 1952 and connects travelers passing through Anne Arundel county to Queen Anne’s County on Eastern Shore, and vice versa.
The three westbound lanes and two eastbound lanes see high volumes of traffic, especially on weekends during the summer months.
“It’s no secret that traffic backs up along Route 50 during peak hours during the summer months,” Hogan said. “Hours that could be spent with your family or at work or doing things you enjoy are instead spent stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic.”
A study was completed last year called the Bay Bridge Life Cycle Cost Analysis that stated the current bridge structures can be safely maintained through preservation and maintenance until 2065, when the two-lane bridge would be 113 years old and the three-lane bridge be 92 years old.
Traffic flow was also included in the study. The analysis looked at the Route 50/301 corridor from Rowe Boulevard in Annapolis to the split at Queenstown.
It found that without added capacity on the highway and at the bridge, during summer months the daily traffic in the eastbound lane could back up to 13 miles by 2040. It also found that during summer months the daily westbound traffic could back up to three miles, and 14 miles on Sundays, when vacationers typically drive back from the Eastern Shore, by 2040.
Even during non-summer months, there would be eastbound queues of up to a mile on Friday evenings and Saturday afternoons, according to the analysis. On particularly congested weekends in the summer, traffic in the westbound lane of Route 50 has backed up into Talbot County.
Hogan said the study, a “Tier 1 National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) study, is the first phase of a full NEPA study. It will allow the state to narrow down the options and identify a potential location for a new Chesapeake Bay crossing and to explore financing options.”
The $5 million study will include traffic engineering and environmental analysis, cost-per-mile estimates and procurement options, and economic and land use studies, Hogan said. It could take up to 48 months to complete, he said, “but it is the first critical step needed in order to move forward on addressing the long-range issue of future traffic congestion for the Bay Bridge.”
Sen. Steve Hershey, R36-Upper Shore, whose district includes Kent Island, wrote in an email that obtaining a funding commitment for the NEPA study has been a priority of his since entering the General Assembly in 2011.
“We appreciate Governor Hogan realizing that the issues of Bay bridge safety and (congestion) were not going away. Any additional Bay crossing is decade away,” Hershey wrote. “Governor Hogan has put us in a position to find a solution and get that clock started.”
Hershey wrote that he and others met with Rahn while at the Maryland Association of Counties conference in Ocean City in mid-August, when they expressed their concerns about the gridlock on Route 50 and Route 18.
He wrote that they told Rahn that any study of a new Bay crossing must also include a complete road infrastructure analysis from the bridge to Route 404.
“We also expressed safety concerns and potential delayed response times that the gridlock could impose on our volunteer fire companies and first responders,” Hershey wrote. “We need to look at identifying Route 18 and the frontage roads as limited access roads for local traffic only, even if it’s just during specific times of the year.”
Hershey said he expects the solution will need the coordination of the state, the Maryland Transportation Authority police, the Eastern Shore delegation and county commissioners. Hogan said Tuesday that he will not only coordinate with counties on the potential third bridge span, but the appropriate environmental agencies, too.
“We also need better a better strategy during wind and weather conditions during commuting hours,” Hershey wrote. “We cannot have a situation, short of an accident directly on the bridge, where we don’t have three westbound lanes open during afternoon commuting hours.”
Queen Anne’s County commissioners were pleased with Hogan’s announcement.
But, Queen Anne’s County Commissioner Jim Moran said the county would like to see the full NEPA study funded within the next year or two.
Moran said that he’s ecstatic the process has started, “but we as a county feel that the entire study needs to be funded to move this process forward in a timely manner” because “dooms day” is coming the next six or eight years.
“In six to eight years, it’s not going to be a happy place to be,” Moran said.
The Queen Anne’s County Commissioners wrote to Hogan and Transportation Secretary Pete Rahn last year, stating the situation with traffic on Route 50 on Kent Island can only get worse.