Out and About (Sort of): Contentious Crossing by Howard Freedlander

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About a year from now, the Maryland Transportation Authority (MdTA) will announce the location of the third Chesapeake Bay Bridge crossing, having chosen from 14 options in Cecil, Kent, Queen Anne’s, Talbot and Dorchester and Somerset counties. A no-build option also is on the table, so I understand.

Maryland Transportation Authority

The impact of a third span on the Eastern Shore will be monumental. Residential and commercial development will follow. Environmental effects will be severe. Quality of life, though an overused term, will take an irreversible blow.

Actual construction would be years off following completion of a federally mandated Environmental Impact Statement. I question how the State of Maryland would finance a $10-20 billion project at a time when public works projects of this size would require a large infusion of private money. Public-private (P3) projects are increasingly more common in the United States,

Nonetheless, the Eastern Shore should gird itself for battle. I say this, knowing that state law grants the Shore veto power over the selection of a crossing. However, state law can be changed, as an Anne Arundel state senator tried and failed to do last year.

As I’ve stated repeatedly in this column, legislative power is in the hands of Western Shore politicians. In this case, they are listening to constituents understandably upset over long waits from traffic congestion heading east and west over the current two Bay Bridge spans during the May-through-September vacation season.

As Eastern Shore residents, environmental groups and politicians prepare their arguments against a project that would undoubtedly change the rural face of Shore, I suggest that a particularly strong one is the real and overwhelming need to protect and preserve product farmland.  I’m not minimizing other excellent reasons for opposition, such as environmental degradation and increased real estate development. I’m just tacking one way for this column.

As John Piotti, president and CEO if American Farmland Trust, wrote recently in the Bay Journal, “Farmland is critical infrastructure akin to roads and bridges. It is the source of the food that sustains us. In addition, farmland provides open space, areas for recreation and habitat for wildlife. It also controls floods, suppresses fires, filters water and represents a vast carbon sink to mitigate and even help reverse climate change.

“Think Maryland’s Eastern Shore.”

According to Piotti, Shore farmland contributes more than $8.25 billion to the U.S. economy. Queen Anne’s County contains the most agricultural acreage and the largest farmland economy in Maryland. The largest percentage of land devoted to farming is in Kent County with a figure of 76 percent. The figure is 55 percent in Queen Anne’s County.

According to an academic study conducted in 2013 by professors at Georgia State and Marquette universities, interstate highways cause the conversion of 468 acres for each mile of roadway. I’m guessing it’s a little less for intrastate highways.

No bridge stands alone. It must be accompanied by an extensive road structure leading to and from the high-flying structure.  That’s the crux of the problem, apart from the thousands and thousands of cars dumped on the Shore as they hurry to coastal resorts.

There’s no telling if a persuasive argument such as the protection of productive farmland will win the day in the corridors of power in Annapolis. But increased and urgent preservation of farmland in the Delmarva peninsula just might thwart a land grab.

As a member of the board of the Eastern Shore Land Conservancy (ESLC), I well know of this organization’s success in preserving 60,000 acres in 29 years in an area ranging from Cecil to Dorchester County. State, local and land trust preservation programs are vital to keeping vibrant the agricultural economy on the Eastern Shore.

So, what am I proposing?

If a third Bay Bridge span is imminent—as measured possibly by a decade—then I suggest that a new initiative called Delmarva Oasis become part of our area’s consciousness. The intent is to preserve up to 50 percent of the land in Maryland’s Eastern Shore; currently the percentage is roughly 38 percent.

Delmarva Oasis makes particular sense in light of the threat presented by the potential construction of a third Chesapeake Bay Bridge span. It offers a way to protect and preserve valuable, food-producing farmland through the purchase of easements and the direct acquisition of land.

As John Piotti concluded, succinctly and sensibly, “We need to save the land that sustains us. No farms, no food, no future.”

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.

Addendum:  A fair number of Spy readers have asked to view the original pdf file of maps associated with Howard Freedlander’s most recent column in the Chestertown Spy and Talbot Spy on the fourteen possible third bay bridge span options produced by Federal Highway Administration and Maryland Transportation Authority. Please review the document here. It is important to note that these maps are clearly labeled, as, “pre-decisional and deliberative.” The Spy appreciates the thoughtful comments on Howard’s piece about the impact of a possible new third span.

 

Letters to Editor

  1. Ezra Finkin says

    If a new bridge or a new span of the bridge is under consideration to facilitate primarily beach traffic, why not a rail option? That would preserve the environment, cut down on road use, limit development and sustain Eastern Shore communities. Beach businesses should love it as it would meet the needs of a growing number of folks that have ditched their cars entirely. Getting to Maryland beaches without a frustrating and lengthy car ride would be a major selling point with car free millenials and empty nesters and families that hate to tie up limited vacation time inching along Route 50. For residents of the Shore, we don’t have to deal with the seasonal traffic nightmares and strip malls popping up to cater to drivers stuck on Route 50. If beach businesses are the beneficiaries, maybe they pay a sales tax to help get all these new beach goers to and from their hotels, restaurants, bars and shops. Maybe folks will even head to the beach off-season if it’s easy to get to. Seems like a win-win to me.

    • Love this idea!

    • Christina Manning says

      I also Love this idea as I have been saying it for years. The mass transit system in this country is sorely lacking. I say make it a “leave your car behind” option so not only can people travel to the beach but some of us that may want to visit parts beyond the shore can travel via rail.

  2. Howard Freedlander says

    In a previous Spy column, I supported a rapid transit option. I do not know if the Maryland Transpirtation Authority is considering it. I suspect it is expensive. Travelers would have to change their mindsets by relying less on cars. That would be a tough adjustment. The end result, however, would prove better for reducing carbon dioxide spewing from thousands and thousands of cars, preserve farmland and open space and enable the Shore to retain its quality of life.

  3. Hugh (Jock) Beebe says

    Hurrah to Howard!
    Your clearly framed outline summarizes the third bridge threat. Thank you.
    Developers and Atlantic coastal commuters would benefit, not existing Eastern Shore residents.
    Would it be worthwhile to establish a small working group that would monitor all pro 3rd bridge initiatives and issue periodic reports to Eastern Shore residents through public media? If future events were to show need for an organized defense against a 3rd bridge throughout the entire Eastern Shore, it would be easier to mount it if contemporaneous information were shared. Playing catch up after late recognition of a problem is hard to accomplish.

    • Much of what Howard posits is speculative – not wrong more than likely, intuitive to a great extent, but unknown and unproven. What if there was a way to add science to the art and defense to these positions?

      One wouldn’t have to go far to find empirical evidence of the possible outcomes. The Greenlee Group proposes a research project entitled “A Comparative Analysis of the Delmarva Peninsula to Long Island”. It is said that the Eastern Shore is the next Long Island, and if so, there should be lessons that Delmarva can learn from at least the last three East River crossings in the 1950’s and 60’s. There are now ten bridges and tunnels connecting the Western Shore (Manhattan, the Bronx, and Staten Island) to the Eastern Shore (Brooklyn and Queens). These all contribute to Long Island being one of the most densely populated regions in the United States, though even as recently as the end of WW2, it was still remarkably similar to Delmarva. Both regions are driven by huge economic engines that support / demand a constantly growing population. Both regions are heavily influenced by water based ecologies. Both regions have a long history of thriving small town communities at the core of farming and fishing based economies. It seems there are enough similarities between the two geographies to draw meaningful land use planning conclusions from such a comparison. For an issue so important to the Oasis, we should do everything we can to understand the true and specific implications of bridge development.

    • I echo Jock’s call for a working group, but I would add that a significant purpose of said group should be to form a coalition among the Delmarva counties so we are not at the NIMBY based cross purposes we are today, and so when the Western Shore powers try to discern what is best and what we want, we have the power of a positive unified voice.

  4. Alan Boisvert says

    Typical conservative alarmist(the sky will fall) article. Build the damn bridge.

    • Howard Freedlander says

      Disagree it’s conservative thinking…it’s more one of conserving and preserving farmland and open space.

Trackbacks

  1. […] want to add some thoughts to Howard Freedlander’s excellent column in the Spy of January 29, 2019 regarding a contentious 3rd Bay Bridge. I originally focused on a […]

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