Out and About (Sort of): 3rd Bay Bridge Span Questioned by Howard Freedlander


Last week I wrote about an engaging concept entitled Delmarva Oasis, which, if it becomes a reality, would convert a large portion of the Delmarva Peninsula into a preserve that retains and enhances the agricultural and environmental goodness of the region we call home. I noted that the prospect of a third Chesapeake Bay Bridge span imposes a certain urgency on converting this concept into a reality.

Up until recently, I favored a third span. For 30 years, I crossed the Bay Bridge to earn a living in Baltimore and Annapolis. I developed a love-hate relationship with the existing two spans, sometimes crossing easily, sometimes with annoying difficulty.

The solution to the increasing congestion and mental damage seemed obvious to me: build an additional span. The May to September “reach the beach” fervor, resulting in year-after-year inconvenience to Eastern Shore residents trying to negotiate Route 50, would be alleviated. All would be right on this side of the Bay.

I have been wrong.

A third span– either aligning with the current bridges or crossing from Baltimore to Kent County or extending from Calvert County to Dorchester County—would simply dump more vacationers on Route 50. Eastern Shore residents would continue to be imprisoned in their homes during the seasonal rush to the Maryland and Delaware beaches.

A bridge spanning the Baltimore Harbor and Kent County may seem logical based on distance and probable expense but destructive to a county with rich farmland and a predominantly agricultural economy and way of life. Kent Countians have fought hard over the years to preserve its rural character, understandably.

So, what’s the solution? Realistically, the political power supporting expansion of the two-span Bay Bridge rests on the Western Shore. This comment is not meant to disparage our fellow Marylanders on the other, well-populated side of the Chesapeake Bay.

The decision to build or not to build is not ours to make.

While we can make noise, we regretfully can do little else. Still, we must persist. Our arguments must carry sufficient force to resonate in the State House and General Assembly.

Were I able to wave a magic wand, I would opt for a rapid transit solution, one that would reduce the traffic on the Shore. I would recommend that a third span, should it be built alongside or even atop the current structures, be devoted solely to rapid transit.

A rapid transit solution not only would reduce cars, crashes, and congestion, it also would mitigate pollution in the air we breathe and the Bay we enjoy.

Would rapid transit be costly? Absolutely. Would it interfere with Americans’ love affair with their vehicles? Absolutely. Would it affect the economic fortunes of small businesses along Route 50? Very likely.

What also is rather obvious is that residents of communities on Kent Island, Grasonville, Wye Mills, Easton and Cambridge would achieve a degree of normality during 16-18 weekends. We may be able to cross Route 50 without blocking out a few hours to shop and do errands. We have been good sports for too long.

While doing some research for this column, I read about the possibility of a third span extending from Cove Point in Calvert County to Crisfield in Somerset County, taking beach traffic onto Route 113, relieving the stress on Routes 50 and 13. This is an intriguing possibility that never occurred to me during my lengthy obsession with the Bay Bridge spans.

Ignoring for the moment that residents of Somerset and Calvert counties might scream foul, I like this potential option. Admittedly, it leaves those of us on the Mid-and-Upper Shore unscathed by a third bay Bridge span; maybe our existing traffic would decrease by directing residents of the District of Columbia metropolitan area to the Lower Shore for their entry to Ocean City and Bethany Beach, Dewey Beach and Rehoboth, DE.

While literally pushing the can (cars) down the road, I remained concerned that rapid transit might be discounted as a viable, albeit expensive, option. Like so many people, I love the independence bestowed by access to my own mode of transportation. Like many other people, I would have to adopt a new mindset.

Just recently, I was at Tampa International Airport and necessarily discovered its people-mover system, SkyConnect. Use of it at first was unsettling. Then, I appreciated its convenience, efficiency and speed; Frequent travelers are accustomed to people movers at Atlanta’s huge airport and other domestic and foreign airports.

If the Eastern Shore of Maryland is going to retain its rural character and host a healthy and vibrant environment, preserving land and values, then it must not be the home of a terminus to a third Bay Bridge span. Unless that span is devoted solely to rapid transit and brings no more cars.

Preservation will entail a stubborn, reasoned resistance to more of the same. It’s worth the fight, difficult though it might be.

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. 



Letters to Editor

  1. Mr. Freedlander, great article.
    Please, have you sent this to the MDTA as a comment on their Web site, https://www.baycrossingstudy.com/ , Submit Comments.
    You can also submit a couple of other ways to make sure it gets to the proper people, as sometimes the MDTA Web site has issues, via snail-mail and e-mail:
    Ms. Heather Lowe
    Project Manager, Bay Crossing Study
    Maryland Transportation Authority
    Division of Planning & Program Development
    2310 Broening Highway
    Baltimore, MD 21224

    with a copy to:
    Jeanette Mar, Environmental Program Manager
    Bay Crossing Study
    Federal Highway Administration, Maryland Division
    10 S. Howard Street, Suite 2450
    Baltimore, MD 21201

    Thanks very much,
    Mike Waal

  2. Robert Schanbel says

    I have long considered a train the be the best answer to the long standing problem. Mass transit at the ocean end of the trip is pretty good and could expand. The train could originate near a Metro or Light Rail location and go non-stop with limited impact on the Eastern Shore. Leave the car and traffic behind and start the fun a few hours earlier. Trains can have club cars.

    With a little ingenuity the system could be incorporated into existing bridges reducing impact or the bay and bay traffic.

    Everybody is a winner with the train option.

  3. Dear Mr. Freedlander: Once again a thought-provoking and insightful commentary on our life and times. The third Bay Bridge Crossing, no matter where and of what type, is inevitable.

    One issue I have with your article, however, has to do with the sheer hyperbole of the summertime crossing of Route 50. I take issue with terms like, “without blocking out a few hours to run a few errands”. Respectfully submitted: Bullfeathers. In over 15 years of running weekend errands across Route 50, even in the summer, I have never had to set aside HOURS to cross this road. Yes, it takes a little longer wait…..perhaps two cycles of the traffic signals… to move on but we are talking 5-10 minutes MAXIMUM additional time.

    Bring your stopwatch this coming summer. I guarantee minutes lost, not hours.

    Jon Powers
    Saint Michaels

  4. I have several points of disagreement with Howard Freelander’s article about a 3rd. span over the Chesapeake.

    1. I have lived 29 years at Easton in a neighborhood that has one exit, and it is directly onto U.S. 50. I rarely have had problems with the traffic on summer weekends. (Of course, I also know the tricks and alternatives to getting around.) My point is, I have almost never felt “imprisoned” by vacation traffic. I think many people make more of it than it is.

    2. My opinion is that building more roads never seems to solve anything. Build a road, and Americans will buy cars and drive them to fill any road that is built. Personally, I think we need to somehow, some way learn this simple lesson.

    3. Rail?????? Are you kidding???? A rail line would be so underutilized, except for a few days over the summer that it would be total economic folly.

    4. If the “powers that be” are intent on building something, it seems to me that a new auto bridge to the south of Cambridge makes some sense. A bridge there would not be the cheapest by far (the Bay is wider and deeper there, and feeder roads are few), but it would funnel all that beach-bound traffic from Southern Maryland and much of DC and Virginia across the Bay along the shortest route for them with minimum impact to the Eastern Shore towns. The residents down there would battle it tooth and nail, making a strong nature/ecology argument. But the “not in my backyard” mentality is everywhere.

    5. Personally, I think we should just stick with what we have. Two bridges at Kent Island. Or maybe build a third with the idea of it replacing the original that must be reaching the end of its economic life.

  5. This is a very common sense solution. It helps Eastern Shore comunities, it helps those getting to the beach and it helps local beach businesses. This would be a win-win-win….for ecomic development, sustaingin communities and helping protect the environment. How do we make this happen?

  6. Ross Benincasa says

    Very interesting ideas. Politically, though, I don’t know that a rail line would go anywhere. Personally, I think the best answer that could win some support is surge/congestion pricing. The issue isn’t that there are too many cars on the bridge, it’s that they’re using the bridge at the same peak days/times. Our goal should actually be to put more cars on the road at times when there aren’t many by offering a lower-priced crossing during those periods, while charging higher prices during peak hours. It may not influence every one, or even the majority, but if you can move just 10-15 percent of the summer traffic to off-peak times, you can save a significant amount of time and money while cutting down on the harmful emissions of stagnant traffic

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