Maryland is moving forward with a federal study that will ultimately identify an exact location for a new span of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge.
Gov. Larry Hogan made the announcement Friday standing on the shores of the bay in Queen Anne’s County with the aging spans behind him. The new phase moves the state potentially one step closer to making the third span a reality.
“The reality is, in the years to come, the traffic here will continue to get worse,” said Hogan, who noted that more than 27 million vehicles use the iconic crossing annually.
By 2040, traffic volumes are projected to increase by 22% on nonsummer weekdays and 14% on summer weekends, he said.
“This is the critical next step in order to move forward so that we can make a new bay crossing a reality in the years to come,” said Hogan, who made the announcement on the first of a six-day tour of Eastern Shore counties.
In July, the state will celebrate the 70th anniversary of the opening of the crossing that links the eastern and western portions of the state via the Routes 50 and 301 corridor.
“The bridge is now well past its initial life span of 50 years,” said Hogan. “Traffic continues to pile up, and much needed modernization has been delayed for decades.”
In April, the Federal Highway Administration approved an initial study that identified an area near the existing spans for a new crossing. The state will spend $28 million to immediately begin the next phase, a Tier 2 study.
“Since then, we’ve heard that taking the next step is a priority for everyone in Maryland, especially for the 13 counties that have signed resolutions for moving forward,” said Hogan.
The proposed new crossing is not without controversy. Roughly 13 counties support the new span.
“The numbers are growing. There’s nothing we can do there. My fellow commissioners, myself, our delegation, they all support the replacement bridge that we’re looking for,” said Queen Anne’s County Commissioner James Moran.
“It is the lifeline for the Eastern Shore,” he said.
In Anne Arundel County, the council passed a resolution in support of the new crossing. County Executive Stuart Pittman has opposed the plan. In April, following federal approval of the initial study, the executive said he would work to protect sensitive environmental areas and take into account future traffic patterns, prevent sprawl development and promote smart growth and telecommuting.
In a statement Friday, Pittman said he was “pleased” the next phase will study “the westbound approach to the bridge, so that the crippling traffic in the heart of our county can be addressed in a comprehensive way.”
“We look forward to having a seat at the table throughout this process so that our experts can ensure that environmental impacts and comprehensive transportation planning to reduce traffic bottlenecks are fully considered,” said Pittman.
Hogan has made a replacement of the bridges a priority. The study and a federal decision could take months. Hogan will complete his second term in January.
There is no guarantee his successor would continue with the plan. And just as Hogan killed the Red Line project in Baltimore, calling it a “boondoggle,” a new governor could deep-six the two-term Republican’s vision for a new span.
The study, when completed, will include a location for the new span within a selected two-mile area as well as a no-build alternative. The state, in an initial study approved by the Federal Highway Administration in April, chose an area near the current two-span crossing from Anne Arundel to Queen Anne’s counties.
Additionally, Hogan said, the study will look not only at a new bridge but at traffic solutions “for the entire 22-mile corridor from the Severn River Bridge to the Rt. 50-301 split.”
A new span would not be cheap. A bridge-only option, according to the earlier federal study, could cost between $5 billion and $9 billion. A bridge and tunnel option would cost an estimated $8 billion to $13 billion.