A multi-year study on building a new Bay Bridge crossing in Maryland has taken another step forward. All but three proposed locations have been officially eliminated, and one of the three remaining options rises to the top: building an additional span alongside the existing Bay Bridge.
Funded by toll dollars, the Bay Crossing study was ordered by Governor Larry Hogan to solve the frequent major congestion at the Bay Bridge, Maryland’s only Chesapeake Bay crossing. This is “Tier 1” of the study. It started in 2016 and is expected to be finished in 2021.
In the Chesapeake Bay Crossing Alternatives Report completed in July, a screening focused on “the level of demand for each corridor alternative” and whether each option would divert traffic away from the existing Bay Bridge.
Using traffic metrics, the report found a “clear pattern” that the most effective locations for diverting traffic away from the existing bridge are those closest to it. All three originate in Anne Arundel County on the western shore and in Queen Anne’s or Talbot counties on the Eastern shore, each within a few miles of the existing bridge. The report notes that the option known as “Corridor 7,” closest to the bridge, is the shortest overall distance that wouldn’t cause major effects on the Eastern shore and the environment.
The report says, “Corridor 7 has demonstrated the greatest overall ability to meet the Purpose and Need,” and that Corridor 7 has advantages over the other two crossings still under consideration, including better congestion relief and backup reduction at the existing bridge, best diversion route, and better compatibility with existing land-use patterns. However, all three Anne Arundel County corridors are recommended to be carried forward for further evaluation.
A series of open houses hosted by the Maryland Transportation Authority in fall 2019 reinforced the emphasis on reducing congestion, the report states. Members of the public ranked “reducing congestion” as a high priority for identifying possible crossings.
Indeed, drivers crossing the Bay Bridge from the Eastern shore to the western shore faced 10-mile backups on the afternoon of Labor Day this Monday.
Even so, not everyone wants to see a new bridge crossing. The Eastern Shore Land Conservancy tells Bay Bulletin it “opposes a new span in any location which exclusively considers automobile traffic.”
Communications Manager Darius Johnson says, “the recommendations proposed are 20th-century solutions to a 21st-century management issue.” He cites the recently implemented cashless tolling as an example of solutions that minimize impact on the Eastern Shore’s communities, landscape, and “climate vulnerabilities.”
The leader of Anne Arundel County also opposes a new crossing. County Executive Steuart Pittman said in a statement last year, “Any of the three options will be severely disruptive to existing communities and sensitive environmental areas. All three options could destroy parks along the Chesapeake Bay, at a time when we are trying to expand public water access.”
-Meg Walburn Viviano