By Michael Malone
Delegate, District 33
If you live or work in central Anne Arundel County, chances are you've spent significant non-quality time sitting in traffic jams surrounding the Chesapeake Bay Bridge. The good news is that the existing spans across the Chesapeake Bay, one built in 1952 and the other in 1973, are structurally sound and are expected to remain so for another 50 years. The bad news is no surprise: rising traffic levels.
More than 70,000 vehicles cross the Chesapeake Bay Bridge on an average day, or about 25.6 million vehicles per year, with ever-higher numbers of vehicles seeking to reach the Delmarva beaches and other tourist destinations during summer and holiday weekends. According to a 2015 study, by 2040 the number of vehicles crossing the bridge is expected to average more than 90,000 per day, and the weekend gridlock is projected to escalate by more than 35 percent into regular 14-mile backups by 2040.
Alleviating the impact of bay bridge traffic has been a cause for concern for years. In 2016, Governor Larry Hogan instigated an environmental impact study under the National Environmental Policy Act, which is required before the Federal Highway Administration can commit federal funds to a major project, to explore the best locations for another bridge crossing, the results of which should be announced next year. Last month, the Maryland Transportation Authority released maps of potential bridge crossings.
Of the 14 potential bridge crossings, five originate in Anne Arundel County. Three originate in Baltimore County or Calvert County each, two in Harford County, and one in Saint Mary's County. The potential bridges would land in the Eastern Shore counties of Cecil, Kent, Queen Anne's Talbot, Dorchester or Somerset. Costs for the various alternatives range from $7.8 billion to widen the eastbound span to three lanes, to more than $25 billion to demolish the existing spans and replace them with a single eight-lane bridge.
Given that Anne Arundel County bears the brunt of bridge gridlock, and that more of the proposed building sites originate here than anywhere else, you would think that Anne Arundel County would have a significant say in whether and where another Chesapeake Bay Bridge span would be. Sadly, however, that is not the case.
Since the early 1970's, under Maryland law, no toll bridge, highway or road that affects the Eastern Shore can be constructed without the consent of a majority of the nine Eastern Shore counties (Caroline, Cecil, Dorchester, Kent, Queen Anne's, Somerset, Talbot, Wicomico and Worcester). Therefore, no new bay bridge span can be built without the consent of the majority of the Eastern Shore counties. There is no parallel law that requires the consent or even the input of Anne Arundel County residents for the building of a bay bridge span.
This year I have introduced House Bill 212, cross-filed in the Senate as SB 107, which would change the existing law to include Anne Arundel County in the list of those counties whose majority consent is required to build another bay bridge span. Anne Arundel County should have at least an equal voice in whether and where additional bay bridge spans are constructed. A hearing in the House of Delegates on this bill is currently scheduled for March 7 at 1:00pm before the House Environment and Transportation Committee. In the meantime, keep checking the MDTA's Facebook, Twitter and website posts for traffic advisories, or call 1-877-BAYSPAN.