For a fourth straight year, Senate Minority Leader E.J. Pipkin has sponsored a bill to study the need for a third bridge over the Chesapeake Bay. The measure would cost $35 million to have the Maryland Transportation Authority complete the study by 2018.
“We need to talk about this,” Pipkin said in a phone interview with the Spy on Tuesday. “We need to bring those who don’t want a new bridge together with the people who do and have a discussion. We need to study its viability and its economic and environmental impact, and whether we should build or not build.”
“Not having the discussion and sticking our heads in the sand won’t get us anything,” Pipkin, R-Upper Shore, said. “If we’re not going to get another span, we need to talk about that because it has policy implications…if we’re going to go forward, it would be 13 to 15 years before it would get done.”
A report in 2004 projected Bay Bridge crossings by 2025 to increase by 25,000 on weekdays to 86,000. Saturday and Sunday crossings would increase to 140,000 during the summer months, up from the current 95,000.
“That translates into hours and hours of waiting in long lines,” Pipkin said. “At some point in the not-to-distant-future we’re going to have backups from the toll booth back into the city of Washington…we’ve had some backups that cross [Interstate] 495, so we’re not that far off.”
As the Senate’s premier budget hawk, Pipkin has come under criticism for sponsoring a $35 million study during tight budget years.
Pipkin said that funding for the study would come from the Bay Bridge tolls, the same tolls he says went to fund the Inter County Connector project that connects Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties.
“People are already paying for it with their tolls,” Pipkin said. “The Bridge is bought and paid for with all its repairs…and the people of the Eastern Shore are due this study to determine the future of something that is so significant.”
Pipkin said backups have other economic impacts beyond the cost of a study or another span.
“I’d like to point out the much wasted time…gasoline and additional carbons burned every time we get caught in these mega-backups,” Pipkin said. “Maybe we ought to be talking about the economic impact that has.”
The Maryland State Highway Administration has designated three possible locations for a third span. A proposal for the northern end of the Bay would connect Miller’s Island in Baltimore County to Kent County, and a southern location would connect Calvert and Dorchester Counties. A third proposal would parallel the two existing spans that connect Anne Arundel County to Kent Island in Queen Anne’s County.
In his fourth attempt at securing a study, Pipkin said the bill has a greater chance of moving forward this year.
“It made it out of committee and made it to the Senate floor last year,” Pipkin said. “We had an intense discussion in the Senate…so it made progress.”
The bill is co-sponsored by Sen. James Astle, D-Anne Arundel.
Del. Jay Jacobs, R-Kent, says he would support the bill if it made it out of the Senate because “the problems of vehicle congestion is not going to get any better, and we need to keep that process moving forward.”
Jacobs said he was opposed to a northern crossing into Kent, but said the solution to Bay Bridge congestion needs to be addressed through a study.
Other members of the Eastern Shore Delegation were not available for comment due to attendance in committee hearings. The Spy will continue to follow the bill as it moves through the legislature.