Opposition is steadfast to a Bay crossing in Kent
CHESTERTOWN — “Failing an atomic bomb dropped in Kent County, I am hard-pressed to think of an outcome I could consider more disastrous than the addition of a Bay Bridge span and the ruination it would bring to our beautiful home.”
So wrote resident Kate Livie to the Maryland Transportation Authority in December. Livie was providing comment on the MdTA’s current study of potential sites for a new Chesapeake Bay crossing.
The agency has made available online the more than 300 pages of comments and letters received as of March 31.
I read all comments and letters posted at www.baycrossingstudy.com. While my counting methods probably did not adhere to scientific guidelines for enumerating survey responses, I sought to create a tally of the comments received by the MdTA.
“It will be interesting to see how our comments are ‘summarized,’” one person wrote in a December email to the MdTA.
The simplest summary is that while the MdTA has cut the main stem of the Bay into six sub-areas for the current phase of a federally required study on a new crossing, comments narrowed the scope to three locations: the site of the William Preston Lane Jr. Memorial (Bay) Bridge landing in Queen Anne’s County, a northern crossing into Kent County and a southern crossing to either Dorchester County or Somerset County.
There were comments favoring each and opposing each. Some want no new crossing at all. Others called for alternative methods to alleviate traffic at the Bay Bridge: mass transit, enhanced tolls or ferry service, to name a few.
The two leading trends were staunch opposition to a northern crossing terminating in Kent County and support for a southern crossing.
Other comments focused on the process, offering insights into what the MdTA should consider. And some complained about issues with websites or presentations.
“Your web meeting did not work. If you are going to offer this type of communication, you need to make sure it will work for all who wish to join,” someone posted on the study’s website in December.
The MdTA has not identified a preferred corridor within any of the six subareas under review, nor has it suggested any new route across the Bay. Study leaders have repeatedly stated that everything is still on the table. The schedule posted on the study website states that the range of corridor alternatives will not be identified until the fall.
In providing copies of the comments and letters received, the MdTA redacted much of the writers’ identifying information. Where I have listed an author’s name, I have received his or her permission to publish it.
The study is a multi-year $5 million effort “that will result in the identification of a preferred corridor alternative to address congestion at the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and evaluation of its financial feasibility,” according to the MdTA website. An initial public comment period on the scoping of the study ran from Oct. 11 to Dec. 15, however citizen input will be sought through the course of the study.
“Public comments and the level of public opposition or support will be taken into account. Public input is key to the study, as it helps the Project Team identify community needs and concerns and evaluate potential environmental (natural, socioeconomic, and cultural) impacts,” wrote MdTA Public Affairs Manager John Sales in an email May 3.
There are 323 pages of public comments available on the Bay Crossing Study website. Many of those pages have anywhere from three to eight comments on them. Some comments ran multiple pages; comments submitted in December by Tolchester resident and opposition activist Mike Waal ran five pages. I did not count the overall number of comments.
Many commenters cast votes, if you will, for multiple options.
One comment left on the study’s website in November asked for everything but another span next to the Bay Bridge. The writer suggested “spending some real money” and building northern and southern crossings.
“And while you’re at it, what about a ‘chunnel’ style crossing? High speed rail under the Bay from DC and Baltimore, with limited stops — maybe one or two on the western shore and one or two on the eastern shore,” the writer suggested. “And then there’s the old-fashioned ferry. Today’s high speed hovercraft ferries can handle a good number of cars in short order. Maybe a mix of solutions is what’s needed instead of another band aid.”
So in looking at my tally, this writer cast a “no” vote for a Queen Anne’s County crossing, “yes” votes for northern and southern crossings, a vote for a tunnel, a vote for mass transit and a vote for ferry service.
So what are my not-quite-scientific, wholly unofficial tallies?
There were 54 comments in favor of a northern crossing and 280 — the most votes on any option — against it. Moving south, 55 comments favored another span in Queen Anne’s County, while 37 opposed one. The most affirmative votes came in for a south- ern crossing, with 136 comments. Only 16 writers opposed the idea of a southern crossing.
Sixty-six writers said do not build another bridge.
“This is the dumbest thing I have ever heard. Let’s pile more cars on the shore with their single lane highways, that makes no sense at all. It’s bad enough being here in the summer and try to get to work or anywhere else for that matter, with no way to get around with all the bumper to bumper cars,” a lifelong Shore resident posted on the study website in November.
Another writer said that increased ease of access to the Shore would bring more development, hurting an economy reliant on clean water and rural lands. The writer said the added access would damage the very reason people come to the Shore.
“Summer bottlenecks and back-ups are as much a Maryland tradition as Natty Boh and Old Bay. Please leave them be,” the author wrote.
Some suggested finding other ways of fixing traffic. Twenty-two writers floated ideas like adjusting the approaches at the Bay Bridge. Enhanced tolls, whether going all electric or setting different prices for high volume periods, were suggested by 58 writers. Two commenters suggested new land routes.
There were 17 writers who offered the idea of building a tunnel instead of a bridge. Four writers said take the Bay Bridge higher and add upper decks.
After enhanced tolls though, the leading alternative ideas focused on mass transit, with 55 comments, and ferry service, suggested by 24 commenters.
There also were several comments that suggested MdTA seek to mitigate the fear of heights common among motorists on the Bay Bridge. One writer confessed to having nightmares about it.
“When you build the new bridge, please make it user friendly for those who fear heights. I go to the beach each year and have to pay someone to drive my car across it. Scariest bridge in the world,” another commenter wrote.
Sixty-nine writers offered no discernible opinion. They commented on the process or website issues.
Crossing to Kent
A Bay crossing landing in Kent County received the most comments and the strongest show of opposition. Previous studies stretching back more than half a century identified Kent County as a potential site.
“If you build a bridge into Kent County I will move to Wyoming,” someone post- ed on the study website in December.
There also are Kent County residents in favor of a bridge here and the economic development it could bring.
One young Chestertown business owner wrote in January of his support for a bridge landing in Kent County, citing a shrinking school district, reduced services at the town’s hospital, rampant opioid addiction, young professionals moving away and struggling small businesses.
The commenter wrote about how Kent County has been “extremely anti-development,” while the growth that would occur due to a bridge would raise the quality of life in the area.
“I have no idea what your studies have shown at this point, but the feedback given by the majority of Kent County might be that of automatic pessimism, and an unawareness of what state their county is actually in and what it needs to survive,” the business owner wrote.
I reached out to the business owner about being identified. Fearing backlash over the comments, the writer asked to remain anonymous.
An orchestrated movement continues to grow in opposition to a Kent crossing. Groups like the Kent Conservation and Preservation Alliance and Stop the Span, the latter of which Livie is a leading activist with, are gaining members and spreading the word to fight against a northern crossing.
A focal argument by the opposition is the need to preserve Kent County’s rural heritage and scenic beauty. The KCPA started its life a few years ago as Keep Kent Scenic. Signs can be spotted around the county and in the towns stating, “No Bay Bridge to Kent.”
On its website, the KCPA offers three different form letters it suggests supporters send to the MdTA in opposition to a bridge here. I counted 37 of those letters in the public comments provided by the MdTA.
“I do not want a bay bridge crossing into Kent County, creating a massive scar on our pristine agricultural and historic lands, ruining our thriving farm economy and destroying historic sites,” one of the KCPA letters states.
The KCPA suggested people include their own stories to the form letters, just as the following writer did.
“Our family has owned farmland in the Chestertown area for over 100 years. It pains me to think of the destruction a bay crossing into Kent County would bring to the beautiful landscape,” the writer added by hand to the typed form letter.
Chestertown native Lydia Woolever started her submission to the MdTA with a KCPA form letter, but greatly expanded it to talk about her childhood in Chestertown, riding horses near Quaker Neck, working at the historic White Swan Tavern and Play It Again Sam’s and her initial vow upon graduating high school to leave and never return.
“But after many years at a nationally renowned magazine in New York City, and now as senior editor at Baltimore magazine, I see nothing but potential in my hometown, and I plan to start a family here. I plan to raise my children in Kent County, to have them grow
up with the same morals and ethics and safety and solitude that allows great imaginations and ideas to blossom, as it did for me,” Woolever wrote.
As with many other writers opposed to a bridge in Kent County, Woolever spoke about the importance of maintaining the “quiet corners where young people can learn about nature,” the “old growth forests that have yet to be turned into asphalt” and the “ancient homes and structures and scenic vistas that detail the course of American history.”
“Because once it is gone, it is gone for good. Kent County has not yet been swallowed up by chains or housing developments or highways or traffic,” she wrote. “I spend enough time in Baltimore and Annapolis to know that a bridge — a direct connection to those sprawling cities with their disappearing culture that’s quickly replaced by a new condo or strip mall or parking lot — would ruin Kent County’s integrity. It would ruin its natural beauty. It would ruin its history and its community and its people. It would ruin its future.”
Speaking last month, Janet Christensen-Lewis, chairman of the KCPA, said the group was very pleased to see Kent County residents step up and send letters, the majority of which, “with very few exceptions,” oppose a bridge here. She said the letters picked up after the group held a meeting in January to raise awareness of the Bay Crossing Study.
In addition to preserving Kent County’s rural scenery and lifestyle, concerns also included bringing “urban problems” to the area.
“To think that all of the troubles of Baltimore could be just a fifteen minute ride away from rural county Kent is appalling,” one commenter wrote in December.
Still, some residents wrote to the MdTA that something needs to be done in Kent County, and a bridge may facilitate that.
“Please build a bridge right through the heart of Kent County. This county is dying, and the local hierarchy does not want to allow change or modernization in any way. A new bridge would force it to change. The local school system is abysmal. The local hospital is downsizing. There are few jobs and even fewer employable citizens with marketable skills. There is no community support for families with young children,” said one writer in December.
One writer, presumably from the western shore, offered comments about how logistically, a northern crossing to Tolchester would help relieve traffic on the other side of the Bay.
“However, this location may make sense for the western shore logistics but I don’t know of the impact it would have on the Eastern shore environment, residents and infrastructure there,” the commenter wrote.
Another writer, likely from Kent County, was emphatic in his or her support for a bridge.
“The Bridge should come to KENT COUNTY. This county needs to join the modern world,” the writer said.
A southern crossing received similar comments as a northern crossing into Kent County, only the numbers were reversed. More favored a southern crossing and the economic development it could bring to Dorchester County or Somerset County, while the scant opposition voiced concerns about preserving the natural beauty of the area.
“Please build the bridge from St Mary’s County across to Dorchester County. The people of Cambridge Maryland need the economic development,” a commenter wrote in November.
Another echoed those sentiments, but for Somerset County.
“The bridge needs to go south maybe coming into Somerset County. That county could certainly use the influx of jobs and tourism. We certainly do not need more traffic in the northern part of the bay,” wrote one commenter who sounds like he or she does not live on the Lower Shore.
Some noted that Lower Shore population centers like Salisbury could benefit from more direct access to a Bay crossing.
“We have a large population, particularly around Salisbury, that is very isolated from the west side of the Chesapeake Bay because we have to drive so far to the North to get to the Bay Bridge in order to cross. The lower shore can become an economic powerhouse with a more direct route to Washington D.C. and visitors traveling to Ocean City would have a shorter route, leading to more frequent visits,” one writer said in November.
One commenter opposed to crossing into Dorchester County said it would be “an environmental disaster.” The commenter called the area’s marshes “a national treasure” that would be damaged by “a superhighway” from Taylors Island to U.S. Route 50.
“Stay the Hell Away from Cambridge, we don’t want it, and we don’t need it. Build it with the other ones. Leave us alone. You destroyed Kent Island now don’t destroy us. We can make your life Hell. Believe me we can. And we won’t stop until we do,” another writer submitted to the study website in December.
Queen Anne’s County is seen as a prime location by some for a new crossing because it already has one with the twin spans of the Bay Bridge and the requisite highway infrastructure.
Some of those favoring a third span in Queen Anne’s County argued that since the damage to the area had already been done, why burden another locale on the Shore.
“If there is a third span, it should be as close to the present location as possible. Kent Island has been ruined by the bridge, and while it is a necessary evil, there is no sense ruining another town,” one commenter offered in December.
Another writer said the MdTA should first build a six-lane bridge to Queen Anne’s County and then overhaul the current spans.
“Put a toll on going both ways and you will see it pay for itself eventually,” the writer said.
Opponents to another Queen Anne’s County span said the area is maxed out on both sides of the Bay.
“The route 50 corridor at Annapolis cannot handle further traffic. Best to divide eastbound traffic with a span at a different location,” a writer said in November.
One Kent Island resident called for improvements at the current crossing and for the addition of northern and southern crossings.
“This would help spread the traffic burden to other areas and not just dump more traffic at the current crossing,” the author wrote. “If the state decides to only make improvements at the existing crossing to increase capacity then I suggest they plan to buy people out of their homes so they can move elsewhere because they will ruin our way of life.”
Homeland security was on another commenter’s mind.
“There’s no doubt an additional crossing point is needed, but it should be at appoint that precludes a terror attack from knocking out all crossings. In other words, not at the current crossing,” the person wrote.
Enhanced tolls and mass transit led the comments for alternative means of addressing traffic to the Shore.
“I would suggest requiring all or most travelers to use EZPass, reducing the number of toll lanes at any one time to no more than two EZpass lanes per available eastbound travel lane (to reduce the fanning out and subsequent funneling of traffic), widen toll lanes and boost the speed through the toll lanes,” a writer said in November.
Others suggested changing toll rates, such as increasing them during peak hours to encourage motorists to travel at different times.
“Encourage drivers to use the bridge at off peak hours by eliminating the toll altogether and make peak hours more expensive. The bridge is hardly used at night. This would reduce peak traffic considerably,” a commenter submitted in December.
Proponents of mass transit said the state needs to be forward-thinking.
“No matter where you place the new bridge, please include a passenger train trestle bridge along with it. A train to Ocean City or Berlin will greatly reduce traffic across the bridge. I can’t understand why this hasn’t already been done,” one writer posted to the study website in November.
Another writer suggested looking at maglev trains or a hyperloop, a system still under development and championed by technology magnate Elon Musk.
“I believe that the department of transportation should concentrate its time, energy and resources to build the transportation system of the 21st and 22nd centuries, not the transportation system of the 20th century. The likelihood is that 30 years from now we’ll be moving people very differently than we do today,” a commenter wrote in February.
Ferry service too was a recurring suggestion.
“I believe this is better for the commuter, local economies and the environment. Ferry service can be implimented [sic] in just a few years while a bridge would take decades to finance and build. Plus a ferry would add a level of appeal that a bridge can’t touch,” one writer said in October.
A number of those fa- voring tunnels instead of bridges referenced the one under the English Channel and the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel. A common argument for a tunnel is that it would be cheaper to maintain.
“Build a tunnel parallel to the current location, [ sic] A tunnel is inherently less expensive,” one commenter wrote in December.
The Bay Crossing Study is ongoing. The MdTA maintains a website — www. baycrossingstudy.com — with information on its efforts, including copies of the public comments received so far.
Comments are still being accepted and encouraged, according to Sales, the MdTA spokesman.
They may be submitted through the study website, via email@example.com or sent to Bay Crossing Study, Maryland Transportation Authority, Division of Planning and Program Development, 2310 Broening Highway, Baltimore, MD 21224.
The MdTA also started a series of public meetings this month on the study. According to the study website, attendees will learn about the project’s purpose and need, scoping activities and public comments, the environmental review process and the alternative corridor development and screening process.
One is being held from 6 to 8 o’clock tonight at Kent County Middle School in Chestertown. The school is located at 402 E. Campus Ave.
“Staff will be available to answer questions. No formal presentation will be given, and the same information will be provided at each meeting. All meeting materials will be available at baycrossingstudy.com to view prior to the meetings and for those who choose not to attend in person,” the site states.
Additional meetings on the Shore will be held from 6 to 8 p. m. Thursday, May 17 at CambridgeSouth Dorchester High School and from 6 to 8 p.m. Tuesday, May 22 at Chesapeake College in Wye Mills.
Opposition signs like these can be seen all over Kent County. The one at the top is located in front of a farm on state Route 213 south of Kennedyville. At left is a sign in Tolchester and the one on the right is in front of a historic home in Chestertown.
The Chesapeake Bay is seen at the end of Tolchester Beach Road. Some Kent County residents are concerned the state may seek to place a new Bay crossing at Tolchester.
Beach traffic like that seen here on U.S. Route 50 in Easton is one of the drivers behind the study for a new Chesapeake Bay crossing and a leading concern among those offering comments to the state on where to put another bridge.