Task force looks at al­ter­nate Ch­ester River bridge

Record Observer - - News - By PETER HECK pheck@thekent­coun­tynews.com

CHESTERTOWN — The Ch­ester River bridge is re­paired. Now it’s time to think about an­other bridge.

That was the con­clu­sion of the Kent-Queen Anne’s Joint Task Force at its meet­ing Fri­day, Jan. 20. Af­ter a sum­mary of the sta­tus of re­pairs to the cur­rent bridge — the work is done, with min­i­mal dis­rup­tion of traf­fic flow and busi­ness — Kent County Com­mis­sioner Ron Fithian turned the fo­cus of the meet­ing to an is­sue that has been on the ta­ble in some form or an­other for decades — a new cross­ing.

“It was a topic of con­ver­sa­tion when I was elected in 1994, and then it fiz­zled out for a while,” Fithian said. Traf­fic prob­lems on Wash­ing­ton Av­enue through Chestertown con­tinue to get worse, he said, reen­forc­ing the need for an al­ter­na­tive to the cur­rent bridge.

Task force mem­ber Fos­ter Beach, an en­gi­neer, said he looked into the is­sue when there was a pos­si­bil­ity that re­pairs would cause the cur­rent bridge to be closed for an ex­tended time. A lot has hap­pened since the last study was done more than a decade ago, he said.

Beach said he would like to know what ef­fect the State High­way Ad­min­is­tra­tion sees on lo­cal traf­fic from the im­prove­ments of U.S. Route 301 in Delaware and a pro­posed third Ch­e­sa­peake Bay bridge. “(A new Ch­ester River bridge) would prob­a­bly take 10 to 15 years to do if you started it to­day,” he said.

Task force mem­ber Jack Bro­sius, a Ch­ester Har­bor res­i­dent, said he was deeply in­volved in ear­lier dis­cus­sions of the pro­posed se­cond Ch­ester River bridge be­cause of the po­ten­tial ef­fects on his com­mu­nity, which lies near the route that would feed it. He said his re­search un­cov­ered the “real pur­pose” of the se­cond bridge, which was to take traf­fic from a pro­posed third Bay cross­ing from Bal­ti­more to Tolch­ester, a project Kent County has strongly op­posed.

Bro­sius said the en­vi­ron­men­tal stud­ies of the ef­fect of a se­cond Ch­ester River bridge ne­glected the im­pact of the boule­vard on wet­lands be­tween Morgnec Road and the river and the ef­fect of dredg­ing needed to bring con­struc­tion barges to the bridge site. He said SHA of­fi­cials at the time told him the new bridge would not have a draw span, and the draw on the cur­rent bridge would be per­ma­nently closed as a re­sult.

Also, Bro­sius said, the Town of Centreville op­posed the se­cond bridge un­less a Centreville by­pass could be built to di­vert truck traf­fic from down­town. But de­vel­op­ment around Centreville used up land in the route of a pos­si­ble by­pass, he said. He said Queen Anne’s County of­fi­cials see no eco­nomic ben­e­fit in the pro­posed bridge.

A se­cond Ch­ester River bridge “should be looked at,” Bro­sius said. But he said it needed to be in the con­text of the eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment im­pact on the county. He said the sen­ti­ment of the com­mu­nity has been to “keep Kent ru­ral,” which re­duces the ur­gency of such a project. “You need to de­cide where Kent County wants to go and what you need to get there be­fore you de­cide on a bridge,” Bro­sius said.

Con­trac­tor David Bram­ble said there has been no se­ri­ous dis­cus­sion of a Bay cross­ing through Kent County since the 1960s. “It’s an op­tion, not a plan,” he said.

Fithian said a Kent County span was one of two or three op­tions ation.

“It’s the west­ern shore’s pre­ferred op­tion,” Bro­sius said.

Jamie Wil­liams, co­or­di­na­tor of eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment for Kent County, said she would like to see a se­cond Ch­ester River bridge “back on the ta­ble.” She said the county needs to make sure the project is on its wish list of SHA projects. She said it should also be on Queen Anne’s wish list, al­though she said that county may have higher pri­or­i­ties.

Fithian said a re­al­is­tic es­ti­mate of the pos­si­bil­i­ties de­pends on the SHA per­spec­tive. “I’d like to get them in for a brief­ing,” he said. “We need to hear what the prob­lems are and pos­si­ble solutions. Kent and Queen Anne’s are go­ing to have to agree.”

Robert Rager, a com­mu­nity re­la­tions of­fi­cer at SHA, said he would pass along the re­quest to his su­pe­ri­ors.

Fithian said he would wait for SHA of­fi­cials to let the county know when they were avail­able to set a date for the next task force meet­ing. “The sooner the bet­ter,” he said. un­der con­sider-

PHOTO BY DORIAN MITCHELL

With work com­plete on the Ch­ester River bridge. a re­cent meet­ing of the Kent-Queen Anne’s Joint Task Force had dis­cus­sions about the pos­si­bil­ity of an­other cross­ing in Kent County.

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