Handful of legislators ‘surprised’ by bridge project
Hogan, So. Md. delegation at odds as to how Nice replacement came about
Despite the Southern Maryland Delegation seemingly happy that Gov. Larry Hogan (R) announced funding to replace the Gov. Harry W. Nice Memorial Bridge this week, the two sides still seem to be at odds.
On Monday, Hogan announced the state will begin working on the new Potomac River crossing in 2018 and will have it completed by 2023.
The Maryland Transportation Authority unanimously voted to replace the bridge on Monday morning, and Hogan’s approval of the plan sealed
the future for the new bridge.
The project will cost the state about $806 million, which Hogan said is a significant decrease from what the General Assembly proposed last year in a bill he vetoed.
The bill would have put together a funding system that would have been put toward costs for replacing the bridge by 2030. Hogan’s plan costs less and will be done seven years ahead of that schedule.
Hogan said finding a replacement strategy for the bridge was “always a priority” for his administration and was something they were going to work toward. He said local and state legislators have been “playing political games” and that has prevented him from getting anything done in regards to the bridge.
Hogan did not specify any leg- islators in particular, but said he had a number of conversations with the legislature about the bridge during the last Gener- al Assembly session and “we made it very clear they were counterproductive.”
“They were interfering with our ability to get it done. This had nothing to do with trans- portation, it had everything to do with politics,” Hogan said.
Hogan said many people are upset with the state’s “road kill bill” which was enacted in 2012 before he was elected. The bill requires the governor of the state to rank all major transit projects by factors such as the economic impact and environmental impact.
Hogan is confident he can get the legislature to repeal that bill, he said, because of people’s concerns.
“They’re political animals. They want to get re-elected,” he said.
Del. Sally Jameson (D-Charles) said the announcement took her by sur- prise, but the impact on the region will be a positive. Replacing the “heap of crap we’re using now” with a safe and efficient project is good for the future.
But she said she is also surprised Hogan said he was in support of replacing the bridge all along.
“[Sen. Thomas “Mac” Middleton (D-Charles)] had a bill, I had a bill. We both met with [State Transportation] Secretary [Pete] Rahn after the tolls were reduced to see if there was anything we could do,” she said. “They told us if you find any money for it, we’ll work with you. And we did. The bills passed, but the governor vetoed it.”
Jameson said the Southern Maryland Delegation and the General Assembly would work to override the veto, but now they do not have to. That is likely the reason why, she said, Hogan chose to move forward with this plan in the first place.
Hogan is upset with the “transparency bill,” Jameson said, which is the term many legislators use to describe the bill that requires Hogan to rank transportation projects. But if this is the result of the bill, she said, it is working.
Middleton said he is thankful Hogan changed his position on the bridge and will replace it with a new, wider bridge. Replacing the bridge is a “matter of fairness,” he said, that will benefit Southern Marylanders.
Earlier this year, Middleton said, the governor questioned whether the bridge needed to be replaced, so this decision comes as a surprise. Jameson agreed, but said it is “a wel- come one.”
Jameson said it will be inter- esting to see if the costs remain down and the plan remains on schedule, but “I am hopeful it does.”
Rahn said the cost savings for the bridge came from the strat- egies they are using to build it.
“Bringing the widest span down, lowering the projected height and taking advantage of a deeper channel, all of those contributed as well as other decisions about materials,” Rahn said. “It’s still going to be a 100year life for the [new] bridge.”
She was not invited to the press conference where the project would be announced, Jameson said, and neither was Middleton. However, she said, she still hoped things would work out in the future.
Charles County Delegation Chairwoman Edith Patterson (D-Charles) said she hoped things would work out as well, but would have liked to receive an invite to Monday’s press conference at the Nice bridge with Hogan. The delegation has worked “for years and years” just to get the momen- tum to build a new bridge and she would have liked to see it come to fruition.
“This is something we could have worked toward last year,” she said. “I am very happy to see it finally happening, and look forward to it improving the region economically.”
Del. C.T. Wilson (D-Charles), who was also not invited to the press conference, said it does not matter whether he was in- vited or not as long as “things are getting done.”
“Isn’t that the entire point of this all?” he said. “I wasn’t elected to get ready for a campaign every four years. I was elected to get things done. That’s what we’re trying to do here. I don’t care who does it, whether it’s us or him. As long as it’s done.”
Wilson met with Hogan on Monday in La Plata along with Charles County residents to discuss the economic future of the county and how to improve it. Hogan brought up the Nice bridge as a positive, he said, so it was in his plans.
Wilson said he had a clue something was coming on the Nice bridge after a discussion with some of Hogan’s staff members “a couple of months ago.”
“They told me he had it in his plans. They didn’t know when he would do something, but they told me to just be patient. And I was,” Wilson said. “I’m not surprised by this at all.”
Gov. Larry Hogan (R), left, and Pete Rahn shake hands with Charles County Commissioner Ken Robinson before announcing the plan to replace the Gov. Harry Nice Memorial Bridge Monday afternoon.
Gov. Larry Hogan (R) and Secretary of Transportation Pete Rahn announce the replacement for the Gov. Harry Nice Memorial Bridge while standing under it on the edge of the Potomac River on Monday afternoon.