The EPA Bay Program's house organ, the Bay Journal: Opponents of new Bay Bridge pushing for alternatives
Maryland’s Bay Bridge consists of two adjacent spans between Annapolis and Kent Island: a two-lane bridge constructed in 1952, which serves as the eastbound route, and a three-lane westbound span that opened in 1973. After more than two years of study, the Maryland Transportation Authority, which operates the 4-mile structures, plans to release a narrowed-down list of possible routes for a potential third span in the coming months.
The $5 million analysis is expected to name a “preferred corridor alternative” by December 2020. Under the most sanguine time line, a new bridge would still entail a decade or more of planning and construction before it could open, planners say.
As the study nears its next stage, many environmentalists and smart growth advocates are questioning the necessity of a third bridge. They want the state to explore alternatives, such as expanding mass transit or launching a ferry service.
“Given how much money is involved and the time frame for the construction of a new bridge, there needs to be consideration of other options,” said Kimberly Golden Brandt, director of Smart Growth Maryland.
Based on what is publicly known about the study, though, some observers doubt that the state is doing that.
Earlier this year, the MDTA released a report on the Purpose and Need for a third Bay crossing in Maryland, stating that the study’s aim is to “consider corridors for providing additional capacity and access across the Chesapeake Bay.” Transportation planners presented a “no-build” option but only to show how congested the existing spans will become by 2040 unless another bridge is built.
An MDTA spokesman declined to comment or make anyone within the department available for an interview for this report.
But at a recent meeting about the crossing study, a top official with the Maryland Department of Transportation threw cold water on suggestions that a ferry, a rail service or buses could alleviate the Bay Bridge’s traffic woes.
No fewer than six studies were conducted between 2000–07 to look at the possibility of connecting the Eastern and Western shores via a ferry service, said Heather Murphy, MDOT’s planning director.
The ferry option that would remove the most traffic from the bridge — a low-speed ferry shuttling between Chesapeake Beach and Cambridge — only managed a cut of 917 vehicles, less than 1% of the peak summer season congestion. Talk of a ferry system needs to be “decoupled from that of a third bridge,” a governor-appointed ferry committee concluded in 2007.
“They didn’t see how that would relieve enough traffic off the Bay Bridge,” Murphy said.
A rapid transit bus service or rail system could siphon off about 1,250 vehicles from the bridge’s eastbound lanes during busy summer weekends, she said, citing a 2007 MDTA report. But that would still represent only about a 1% traffic reduction and come with a price tag ranging from $400 million for bus service between Annapolis and Kent Island to nearly $30 billion for a heavy rail system extending from Washington, DC, to Ocean City.
“You really need a lot more density than we have” to make a mass transit option work economically, Murphy said. “Yeah, you could take some of the traffic of the Bay Bridge and put it on mass transit, but it would be nowhere near the numbers we would need and at a very high cost.”
Anywhere they locate a new span, it will significantly impact the people nearby, mostly for the worse, bringing more traffic and noise. Of course, gas stations and mini-marts will benefit, as well as a few business on the destination side. Plus, the structure makes for pretty good fishing.
Our local area is #12 in the list of options for a new bay bridge span. Low enough that we're probably pretty safe.