By Daniel Menefee
Gov. Larry Hogan’s announcement last week that he will only consider a third Bay Bridge next to the existing spans on Kent Island was welcome news to leaders in Kent and Queen Anne’s counties, but reaction from conservation groups was mixed.
Queen Anne’s County Commissioner President Jim Moran said Kent Island is the only reasonable choice for a new span because “the state already owns the right of way…to enlarge roadways, access roads, and overpasses.”
The Maryland Department of Transportation had considered multiple sites and on Aug. 27 announced it had narrowed the options to three, but Hogan said the next day he would only support the Kent Island option. The two remaining options would have touched down in Kent or Talbot counties.
Kent Island in Queen Anne’s County is where the current spans end on the Eastern Shore.
Moran said efforts to secure rights-of-way at the other locations would bog the state down in lawsuits for a decade. He believes the permitting process would be less problematic at Kent Island and cost the state far less than the other locations.
“If a new crossing is built anywhere else you will need multiple studies for every mile of infrastructure across water and land, and again this could take a decade to complete the process.”
He said that a new span is needed more than ever at Kent Island because improvements have been made to “move traffic as efficiently as possible across the Bay Bridge.”
“This includes years of upgrades to routes 50 and 404, and now a new toll road in Delaware that brings traffic off of Interstate 95 and dumps onto Route 301 with a direct shot to the existing Bay Bridge,” he said. “So the traffic is here, and it used to move smoothly through our county, but over the last five years the volume is more than the existing bridge can handle, and it is getting exponentially worse.”
He said the infrastructure improvements for a Kent Island span could reduce beach traffic on local roads and make it safer for bike and pedestrian traffic.
Conservation group opposed
Queen Anne’s Conservation Association, a nonprofit that promotes rural stewardship and sustainable growth said it would fight Hogan’s plan.
“We plan on aggressively opposing the span at Kent Island,” said QACA Executive Director Jay Falstad. “We believe that the state has not exhausted or fully considered other options which might reduce traffic flow and make things more efficient.”
Falstad said high-speed tolling and employing “congestion pricing” could mitigate much of the traffic problem.
Congestion pricing incentivizes motorists to travel during off-peak hours by offering a toll discount. During peak hours the toll rate is increased significantly. Falstad believes congestion could be reduced by giving beachgoers the option to choose off-peak travel times to save money.
The InterCounty Connector, which connects Gaithersburg and Laurel, has no manned toll booths and uses congestion pricing. For motorists without E-Zpass, video snapshots of license plates are used to bill motorists at the address the vehicle is registered.
Hershey says Hogan plan is best option
Sen. Minority Whip Steve Hershey who represents the Upper Shore said infrastructure on the Queen Anne’s side of the spans would be a priority.
“Gov. Hogan is absolutely correct, there is only one option that will best alleviate our current and projected congestion issues while remaining sensitive to overall costs,” Hershey, R-Queen Anne’s, said in a statement to the Spy. “Our focus will be to ensure the infrastructure in Queen Anne’s County, including local roads and bridges, is considered and appropriately upgraded within the scope of the project.”
Kent County Commissioners Tom Mason and Ron Fithian support Hogan’s choice of Kent Island but were concerned that the project could fail to break ground before the end of Hogan’s second term. Mason said a new administration might not see the urgency for a third crossing, “adding years to the process.”
Kent conservation group neutral
Kent Conservation and Preservation Alliance, which has opposed a third span touching down in Kent County, did not endorse Hogan’s plan but said the Kent Island option was a forgone conclusion based on a 2015 MDTA study.
“… if a third span is to be built the best option would be where the current bridge stands,” said Janet Christensen-Lewis of KCPA. She said KCPA would continue to oppose any plan to bring a bridge to Kent County.