Nice Bridge replacement is an urgent need
This letter was sent to Gov. Larry Hogan ( R). A copy was sent to the Maryland Independent.
I read with interest your public statements supporting construction of a full replacement of the Gov. Harry W. Nice Memorial Bridge, as reported in the Baltimore Sun last week. This represents a step in the right direction, since your administration had previously questioned the need for the project. While I applaud your statements, action is needed now to implement this project.
The Maryland Department of Transportation’s recently released draft capital program is disappointing in the effort to replace the bridge for two reasons — it shows project schedule delays and no construction funds have been included. Charles County and Southern Maryland have made the Nice Bridge a top priority for years. Please direct the Maryland Transportation Authority ( MDTA) to expedite the project to avoid further delays. And — most importantly — please program the construction dollars needed to build it.
The situation is urgent:
• The 76- year- old bridge has a deck that will reach the end of its useful life by 2025- 2030 and will need replacement. Construction funding must be added soon to meet a target date of Dec. 31, 2030 for opening of the new bridge.
• Adding construction dollars to the capital program now will show Maryland’s commitment to the project and put pressure on Virginia to act on funding its share of the project.
The project is needed:
• For safety: The Nice Bridge is the only MDTA facility — highway or bridge — without a median separation between opposing directions of traffic at all times. The steep bridge has no shoulders and the lanes are narrow.
• For security: The bridge serves as a critical evacuation route in the event of a national disaster or security alert, links the region’s military facilities and businesses, and provides
the only direct, logical alternative to I- 95 for travel between the Washington metropolitan area and Richmond, Va., in the event of a major incident or closure on I- 95.
• Economy and quality of life: Traffic backups can stretch for miles on weekends in the summer, as U. S. 301 traffic continues to grow. Projections show an increase in traffic of 45 percent on weekdays and 33 percent on weekends by 2025.
• A re- decking to extend the life of this aging facility, as suggested earlier by Transportation Secretary Pete Rahn, would be shortsighted. Previous analysis already rejected this option. It would be highly disruptive and would not address the current inadequacies of the bridge. A project limited to the replacement of the deck without the availability of an additional Potomac River crossing will place an undue hardship on vital U. S. Department of Defense facilities in the area and on other users of the bridge. It could require detours of more than 100 miles. It would also ultimately leave in place an inadequate facility. After years of study, the MDTA’s preferred design received federal approval which includes two lanes in each direction, shoulders and a median separation. This was supported by the professional staff of the MDTA and federal agencies.
Constructing this project is also a question of fairness and regional equity. Southern Maryland residents who have been paying the tolls on the Nice Bridge have waited patiently while the MDTA has funded major projects in other regions of the state.
You have the ability to take action now:
• The project is ready to go.
After years of study, the MDTA received federal approval of a National Environmental Policy Act ( NEPA) study in 2012, supporting the need for the project and providing environmental approvals. Preliminary engineering and right- of- way acquisitions were funded three years ago and are underway. Funds for final design and construction are needed to get it done. • The money is available. State budget analysts concur that there is capacity within the MDTA from toll revenues to fund construction.
Thank you again for your statements of support of this project. Please know that I stand ready to assist in moving this project forward. Earlier this year, out of a concern about a lack of action by your administration to build the bridge, I sponsored legislation that would have dedicated funds for the construction. As you know, the Maryland General Assembly passed it and you vetoed it. If legislation is not needed to secure the construction funds this year, I would welcome and applaud this. What matters to Southern Maryland and the users of the Nice Bridge is seeing action now from state government on replacing this aging facility with a new, expanded bridge crossing. Sen. Thomas “Mac” Middleton ( D), Waldorf The writer is a Maryland state senator representing Charles County.