Task force looks at alternate Chester River bridge
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-
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.