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Md. Transportation Authority to take up Nice Bridge project

Gov. Larry Hogan speaks at a news conference on Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2016 near Annapolis, Md., with the Chesapeake Bay Bridge in the backdrop. Hogan announced a $5 million study to explore a potential new Chesapeake Bay crossing. (AP Photo/Brian Witte)

Gov. Larry Hogan speaks at a news conference on Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2016 near Annapolis, Md., with the Chesapeake Bay Bridge in the backdrop. Hogan announced a $5 million study to explore a potential new Chesapeake Bay crossing. The governor has scheduled an announcement for southern Maryland on Monday at a time of increased debate over the replacement of the Gov. Harry W. Nice Bridge that links Charles County with Virginia. (AP Photo/Brian Witte)

The discussion regarding the replacement of an aging bridge connecting southern Maryland to Dahlgren, Virginia, is set for another turn on Monday.

The Maryland Transportation Authority Board is scheduled Monday to tour the 75-year old Gov. Harry W. Nice Bridge. Later the board is scheduled to vote to approve an unspecified construction item. That meeting, at the transportation authority’s administrative building near the bridge. The meeting and vote are scheduled just before an afternoon announcement by Gov. Larry Hogan.

Little is known about the announcement except that it will happen at the same authority administrative building where the vote is set to occur.

Sen. Thomas M. “Mac” Middleton, D-Charles County and chairman of the Finance Committee, said he had not spoken to the governor about the meeting but is planning on attending to tour the facility and possibly be present for the vote.

“I’m hopeful they will approve an uninterrupted funding source for the replacement of the bridge,” Middleton said Saturday. “I feel like this is going to happen.”

The timing of the trip to southern Maryland along with the authority’s vote is similar to a 2015 scenario.

At that time, the board, meeting at the authority’s administrative building adjacent to the William Preston Lane Jr. Bridge that spans the Cheseapeake Bay, voted to reduce tolls at the bridge. Roughly an hour after the vote, Hogan used the bridge as a backdrop to announce the news in what previously had been described only as a major transportation announcement.

The fate of the span, which was built when Franklin D. Roosevelt was president, has been the subject of contention between Gov. Larry Hogan and legislators since 2015 when the governor announced a plan to reduce tolls at facilities across the state.

Lawmakers feared that the replacement of the two-lane crossing, which is estimated to cost at least $1 billion, would be mothballed due to the decrease in funds.

Earlier this year, the General Assembly attempted to ensure that the replacement would be built by passing Senate Bill 907. The bill required the authority to set aside annually $26 million — a reduction from $75 million called for in the legislation as introduced —  for the replacement of the Gov. Harry W. Nice Bridge in Charles County. A safety valve provision in the bill would allow the agency to put less in under emergency circumstances with the notification and approval of the legislature.

Hogan vetoed that bill earlier this year, saying the legislation mandating the governor set aside money annually for the replacement violated the trust agreement with state bondholders. In his veto letter he wrote that the law “is likely the first of many bills attempting to push a transportation project to the head of the line by legislative ‘Logrolling.’”

That bill is subject to a potential veto override vote when the General Assembly reconvenes in January.

Middleton, speaking Saturday, said that the legislature would not take up an override if the governor and authority put in place a funding plan.

“I have always wanted a partnership with the administration and authority on this,” Middleton said. “I am very, very hopeful.”

Middleton said he also expects that the governor and authority will pare down the plans for a replacement, perhaps killing off some of the bells and whistles, such as a bike and pedestrian crossing, but leaving in place a plan for a bridge with more lanes and a shoulder.

“When you design these projects you always design the Cadillac and then you see how much it costs and you slim it down to what is practical,” Middleton said of the original replacement plan developed under Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley.

The governor has previously called the project a “high priority of this administration,” adding that any lawmakers’ claims to the contrary “are simply not true.”

 


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