If I were an unrepentant cynic, I would suggest that the upcoming repair work on the westbound Chesapeake Bay Bridge is a clever ploy by the Maryland Transportation Authority (MdTA) to galvanize fervent support of a potential third span. As Jim Ports, MdTA executive director, has said, traffic back-ups will be commonplace–and annoying (my word) –during the upcoming two-year project.
According to The Star Democrat, reporting on his briefing of the Queen Anne’s County Commissioners, “Ports said state projections expect at least a three-mile slowdown of traffic and did not rule out areas facing longer lines during peak times. Similar work on the other span off the Bay Bridge is expected to begin in five to 10 years.”
County Commissioner Steve Wilson stated the obvious when he observed that “‘The state had signed up for a permanent traffic jam until the project is done.’ “
Now, MdTA can easily and honestly justify the $27 million the project based on real needs: resurfacing the westbound lanes must happen to avoid possibly disastrous consequences in the future. Work begins Sept. 9.
Just imagine two years of constant congestion and rising blood pressure as all of us on the Eastern Shore have to endure disruption of our lives, not only amid the summer beach mess, but during the year. Patience will be in short supply in this quarter.
Not too many years ago, maybe 2008, MdTA also undertook a renovation project that seemed to last a lifetime, but was mercifully brief—but awfully inconvenient and aggravating to this commuter. The upcoming reconstruction will be horrendous.
Though I no longer commute, I, like of a lot of people, consider the Bay Bridge a lifeline, a vital way to travel to see family and seek medical treatment. My gaming of bridge travel will reach a new level of creativity and frustration.
I repeat. I am not questioning the need for constant repair and maintenance of the Bay Bridge for safety reasons, if not for prolonging its useful life. Unfortunately, reason conflicts with lifestyle needs.
It’s tough being magnanimous when standing still and not moving forward. It’s tough organizing one’s life around a steel, 4.3-mile structure that inflicts itself on you in sometime unpleasant ways.
On to another lofty subject, and that is the matter of a third span. MdTA will be studying four options (including no-build), all three of which traverse Anne Arundel County, and two of which go through Queen Anne’s County; one includes a corridor through Kent and Queen Anne’s counties. One terminates in Talbot County. The likely route, already supported by Gov. Larry Hogan, would adjoin the existing two spans.
My preference, if a third span is inevitable, is the one adjoining the existing two spans—but offering only one mode of travel: rapid transit. It would be expensive. It would present significant logistical challenges. It would be environmentally friendly.
This option is not on the table. Nonetheless, it makes sense to me.
My second choice is no-build. As Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman said in so many words, shame on us if we are still dependent on automobiles by 2040, the date in which the existing spans would be virtually impossible to cross without constant congestion, according to MdTA.
A traffic engineer I am not. I understand, however, there are ways to manage the traffic patterns. It would require ferries, rapid buses, off-peak tolls and other creative approaches. It would preserve the environmental value of Eastern Shore living. Rampant development, as resulted after construction of the two spans in 1952 and 1973, cannot be allowed to recur.
Hearings are scheduled soon. Land protection, preservation of farmland, retention of special character and reduction of vehicular emission of carbon dioxide must be the primary arguments against the construction of a third Bay Bridge.
A cartoon in the Sunday Sun on Sept. 1 may have been scarily prophetic about the value of a third span. It implicitly questioned the impact of sea-level rise and consequent erosion on the Eastern Shore and thus the future of our quality of life. It’s worth thinking about.
Hearings begin Sept. 24 at Kent County High School in Worton, Sept. 25 at Queen Anne’s County High School in Centreville and Oct. 3 at the Talbot County Community Center in Easton—all from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.
It matters little if some of us may not be around when a new bridge, estimated now to cost $10 billion, is built. The future is our legacy.
The Eastern Shore has provided a direct link to Maryland and Delaware beaches for nearly 70 years. We have supported fun, frolic and spending at the beaches. We have suffered inconvenience.
Enough is enough.
Columnist Howard Freedlander retired in 2011 as Deputy State Treasurer of the State of Maryland. Previously, he was the executive officer of the Maryland National Guard. He also served as community editor for Chesapeake Publishing, lastly at the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer. In retirement, Howard serves on the boards of several non-profits on the Eastern Shore, Annapolis and Philadelphia.