Maryland must strike a balance on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge
No bridge lasts forever, with the possible exception of some historic structures built by the ancient Romans. They wear out and need to be restored or replaced. The Federal Highway Administration’s recent decision to move forward with plans for a new crossing at the site of the existing two spans of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge connecting Sandy Point to Kent Island is hardly unexpected. . As much as some people, including Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman, have protested that any new crossings would have to be located elsewhere – well north or south – the existing Anne Arundel-Queen Anne site has long seemed the most practical, given the extent to which US 50 has been modernized over the years to accommodate traffic to and from the region. It was also the clear preference of Governor Larry Hogan and the Maryland Transportation Authority.
The decision is hardly final. The next step will involve a more in-depth examination of the environmental impact of the potential $8.9 billion project in what is called a “Tier 2” study. But an option for the new bridge being discussed should be taken off the table now. And that’s the possibility that the existing spans of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge — the original two-lane structure opened in 1952 and the three-lane parallel span added in 1973 — will be replaced with a massive eight-lane bridge.
How big is an eight lane bridge? Really, really big. San Francisco’s Golden Gate has six lanes. The Brooklyn Bridge offers five car-only lanes. The double-span Delaware Memorial Bridge has eight, but it carries both Interstate 295 and US 40 traffic as a gateway to the northeast. In decades past, providing more lanes was seen as progress, a way to eliminate backups at toll booths. But today, it seems absurd that Maryland could allow such a monstrosity to be built without more seriously considering the ramifications, including how building such capacity would itself increase traffic and impact decisions. land use, just as climate change threatens to potentially devastate much of the East. Shore.
However, the change from five to eight lanes of traffic enjoys broad support from elected officials on the Eastern Shore. As Maryland Matters recently reported, the MDTA has a collection of letters written by politicians from Ocean City to Elkton asking that the eight lanes be built on toll revenue. They only see economic opportunity in all that potential traffic heading their way (along with what some have projected about $1.3 billion in US 50-subsidized expansion projects). State as well). And it probably shouldn’t surprise anyone to learn that many of these bigger-is-better cheerleaders are climate change deniers who don’t understand how rising seas and worsening storms pose an existential threat.
It’s one thing to ensure the Chesapeake Bay Bridge continues to be a safe and viable link connecting the East Coast to the rest of the state. It’s quite another to build such excess capacity to encourage more floodplain development and more long-distance commuters on the road year-round. Rush-hour bottlenecks can be inconvenient, especially during the summer months when the appeal of beaches in Maryland and Delaware is strong, but the overbuilding of infrastructure has even worse consequences, not only for the environment, including the body of water sought by drivers. to cross, but potentially for state taxpayers who are inevitably left behind after a natural disaster.
Just last month, many Maryland lawmakers were busy congratulating themselves for passing legislation to set more ambitious standards to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. And although the state’s Republican governor criticized the bill during the legislative session, he ultimately let it become law. Yet, if all these people really want to fight climate change, shouldn’t they be speaking out against an eight-lane bridge? Is Maryland really serious about reducing emissions or just when it’s politically popular?
Officially, alternative investments like mass transit (bus rapid transit) and a vehicle ferry are still on the table. The same goes for congestion toll pricing and more active lane management that commits more lanes to eastbound holidaymakers on Fridays and Saturdays, for example. Hopefully these less expensive and more environmentally friendly approaches will receive more consideration during Tier 2 than they have received so far. Maryland needs to be smarter in how it manages its transportation needs and that includes the US 50 corridor.
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