Op-Ed: A Bridge to Somewhere by Elizabeth Watson, Judy Gifford, and Janet Christensen-Lewis

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In the fall of 2018, the Maryland Transportation Authority will announce potential corridors for a third bridge across the Chesapeake Bay to Maryland’s Eastern Shore. We have less than one year to make sure such a corridor does not cross into Kent County and destroy our amazing landscape and rural character.

No matter where the location, make no mistake, it will have an impact on the entire Eastern Shore. What is at stake is the Eastern Shore’s quality of life, heritage, and highly productive farmland. Should Kent County be the selected location, our small agrarian rural county with the smallest population and landmass in Maryland would be swamped with traffic and our open space littered with fast food chains. Our unique identity would be ended.

Any emphasis on just the “Bridge” is misleading and perhaps intentional to distract us from thinking about the access corridor that must go with the crossing. This bridge will not be some little two-lane span that drops cars onto country roads. No, it will be four or six lanes with all the development that comes with such a project.

MDTA will specify where those impermeable asphalt and concrete ribbons scar the landscape after a mile-wide corridor has been identified in the study process that has just begun. At this
point, we can only guess where a highway would transect Kent County. By imposing Maryland’s eminent domain to take protected lands, the destruction of the intact historic landscapes and open farmland of Kent County would be impossible to `mitigate.’

Maryland has designated $5 million for a Tier 1 Environmental Impact Statement, designed to narrow areas for a possible crossing from six zones, encompassing the entire Bay in Maryland, to a preferred corridor. In Tier 2, further environmental review will identify the actual route. Kent County has land within three of those zones. Every zone has its own unique set of conditions that will come under consideration. These include significant direct impacts on natural, human and cultural resources, plus secondary and cumulative impacts that transportation projects bring. The latter are often more significant and devastating to the fabric of communities. MDTA is rushing to make these evaluations impacting the entire Chesapeake Bay and the whole of Maryland to meet an artificially imposed deadline.

Reports produced by MDOT, MDTA and the information from the Task Force summary highlight numerous indicators that might be used in the assessments for another crossing.

First, Ocean City is a major economic engine for the State, second only to Baltimore as a contributor to the tourist industry. Ocean City tourism can expand when access becomes less constrained. Of course, this increased traffic will continue until once again there are more vehicles than highways to accommodate, continuing the vicious loop that building more roads perpetuates.

Second, a new bridge to the Eastern Shore would allow easy access to cheaper land and affordable housing for workers on the Western Shore without having to increase wages enough for them to afford housing closer to their work. Our efforts to protect open space have made Kent County an ideal target for sprawl from Baltimore and surrounding areas.

A third and perhaps less understood factor is freight transport moving within and through Maryland, estimated to be $1.6 trillion by 2040. The majority of this freight is moved by trucks.
The new 301 Bypass, when completed, will increase truck pressure from our north. In fact, Delaware Department of Transportation’s “purpose and need” statement for the connector identifies the 95/1/301 construction, in the Final Environmental Impact Statement, as an alternative route for trucks to bypass the congestion and tolls of the I-95 corridor. State transportation studies  give little to no consideration of improvements to rail lines as a path to lessen the load on our highways.

Once a terminus for a Bay Crossing is selected, it is unlikely to be changed in the future. NOW is the time to put an end to the Bay Crossing coming to Kent County that has been threatened since 1907. Our best defense is educated, organized and active citizens. Everyone who cares about the special attributes of our county should attend public meetings, submit comments and ask a lot of questions of our elected officials, MDOT and MDTA. Total transparency in the process, which to date has been lacking, can only happen if citizens make MDTA aware that we are informed and watching. The public must participate and know that there is urgency to participation. There will be no turning back once the Preferred Corridor is identified and the Record of Decision is published.

You are urged to stay involved and informed. This is going to be a community effort. Here are ways you can participate.

If you have not already written to the Bay Crossing Study with your comments, you can still submit them at http://www.baycrossingstudy.com/public-involvement/comment. From our conversations with MDTA, only about 400 comments have been submitted so far. Kent County must add many more comments.

Plan to attend a public information meeting that KCPA will host at Chestertown Firehouse Thursday January 25th at 6:30 PM. Information will be shared about statewide alliances, ways
or you to take part in the NEPA process, especially the “purpose and need” exercise scheduled for this spring and other important ways you can help. We will share information that KCPA
has obtained through contact and meeting with MDTA.

Contact our 36th district General Assembly representatives and the Kent County Commissioners to voice your concerns. Emphasize your expectation that the MDTA must distribute more than the bare minimum of information and provide adequate opportunities for meaningful public participation. Protest the artificial fast-track deadline.

(http://dls.maryland.gov/pubs/prod/NoPblTabLibResDocs/RosterByCounty.pdf)

MDTA has already added Venable, an American Lawyer 100 law firm as external legal representation. Be aware that a need and funds for legal representation will likely be necessary.

Elizabeth Watson, Judy Gifford, and Janet Christensen-Lewis are board members of the Kent Conservation and Preservation Alliance. For more information please go here

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Letters to Editor

  1. Robert Kramer says:

    Thanks for continuing the cause. It’s becoming more and more clear that this ‘study’ with an accompanying recommendation is more about politics and money. .. and nothing about deductive logic or cost benefit analysis.

    A third Bay bridge landing in the County of Kent certainly would make it easier and quicker to get Maryland citizens to the Delaware beaches and tax-free shopping. Seems like that defeats the objective to get more people quicker and faster to Ocean City… where a southern most bridge would be more attractive to the DC suburbs and Northern Virginia.

    • Deirdre LaMotte says:

      I have a feeling that the consideration of Kent County is for truck traffic going north through Delaware, not the beaches. Either way, what a complete disaster for our county. Kent County Leaders: where are your voices?? Have not heard a thing and this is extremely upsetting!

  2. Linda Parry says:

    May I have someone’s permission to cut-and-paste this article to Facebook? Everyone needs to read it!

  3. Joan Berwick says:

    I’m very glad this has been brought to our attention in such a straightforward manner. Why haven’t we heard more about this from our local government? Surely they don’t want this crossing in Kent County.

  4. Many that live on Kent island have had to put up with major congestion, mainly trucks, all summer long. A new bridge north of Baltimore is much needed. We all hope and pray it happens sooner than later

    • Deirdre LaMotte says:

      I feel badly that you live with the traffic on Kent Island. Too bad your county had such irresponsible officials who sold out a lovely piece of land to developers, who could not have cared less about the mess they left. Building more highways and bridges absolutely never decreases congestion. When will our country learn the importance of land planning that
      encourages mass transit and development that does scar the land?

      • Steve Prentice says:

        I agree with Deirdre. We need only look at what has happened to Kent Island and the stretch of 301/50 on this side of the bridge to know that the last thing we want is something like that in Kent County.

    • Mike Waal says:

      Ms. Keene,
      Just a point of information for you and everyone else that thinks a northern Bay Bridge is a good idea; traffic traveling over the east bound spans of the Bay Bridge to Delaware and Maryland beach destination points is equally shared and split, 50% from the north, 50% from the south. But once over the Bay Bridge, 70% of the traffic heads southeast to OC, West OC, Berlin, Ocean Pines, MD; Fenwick, South Bethany, Bethany, Dewey, Rehoboth, Henlopen and Lewes, DE. 350,000 people visit the OC area during speak summer travel time weekends, but 500,000 visit DE beaches! And that geography is all Southeast of the current Bay Bridge. I ask you, common sense wise, does it make sense to build a bridge further North of the existing spans if 70% of the travelers are heading Southeast?

      Add into the equation a Catastrophic Life Threatening Weather Event as was seen this past summer in the south Atlantic, that requires the mass evacuation of the Delmarva Peninsula. Add in to those numbers above all the full time residents of Worcester, Wicomico, Caroline, Dorchester, Talbot and QA Counties in Maryland, PLUS all the full time residents of Sussex County, DE and 1/2 the residents of Kent County, DE [the other half will head north]. That is WELL OVER ONE MILLION PEOPLE all trying to get off the Delmarva Peninsula following the little blue and white Evacuation Route signs. And where do the signs take you? To the Bay Bridge.

      We all can envision in our minds eye what would happen; a night mare, disastrous, traffic jam, posing a threat to life and limb, as everyone is “funneled” to the Bay Bridge. A bridge further North does nothing, absolutely nothing, to ease this situation. I ask you, common sense wise, does it sense make to have another evacuation route, another bridge, further North of the existing spans?

      Some QA County folks say “to heck with the DE and even VA and Wash, DC people, this is all about MD people.” Sorry, that is not right! The MDOT/MDTA/MD-SHA has a responsibility for all travelers that use the Bay Bridges, it is a Regional Thing. It is not just for the convenience of QA and AA county residents.

      I ask you, where are the population growth areas on the western shore of Maryland? Southern Maryland; Prince George, St. Mary’s, and Charles Counties.
      Next look at the growth area of Northern Virginia; Fairfax, Prince William, Stafford, Loudoun, Culpeper, Clarke, Warren Counties. And Don’t forget Wash, DC.
      All of whom want to get to all those “southeastern” DE and MD beach destination points too. And, will want to get off in the case of a Catastrophic Life Threatening Weather Event.

      A northern Bay Bridge absolutely does not make any sense what so ever!

      • Andrew Kim says:

        Mr. Waal –

        While I appreciate your stance, your reasoning is myopic and only tells half the truth. Yes, the “southeastern” beaches are the prime destination. However, the Delmarva peninsula is more than just the beaches. When considering road construction, the destination is only half of the equation. Where the traffic originates from is also just as important. In the summertime, I see many Pennsylvania license plates around the County, especially down in Rock Hall. There are many people that own second homes in Kent County and many parts of the Delmarva that don’t have beaches, such as St. Michaels, Tilghman Island, other areas of Talbot County, and Dorchester County. While as full-time residents we may not like it, but those part-time residents have just as much a voice as we do since they pay the same property taxes.

        Growth wise on the Western Shore, you are right – the areas you stated are going through significant growth. However, if you don’t think there is hugely significant growth in Anne Arundel, Howard, Baltimore, Carroll, and Frederick, and Montgomery counties, you are sadly mistaken. All of those areas would benefit, either directly or indirectly from a northern bridge over the Bay.

        As an almost 11-year full-time resident of Kent County, I personally have mixed feelings about a bridge up here. We desperately needs some growth and an increase in the tax base to support County services and schools. I can appreciate many of the rural features of the County, but I know MANY residents that already do most of their shopping in Middletown, Dover, or the Annapolis/Kent Island area. It would be nice to keep some of those dollars in the County. Even if it was a big-box store, more of the workers would be local and some of the Kent County resident money would actually stay in the County. Like I said, I have mixed feelings.

        People that know me know that I am fairly cynical – especially where government and politics is concerned. While I personally have mixed feelings, I think the bridge is going to come here whether we like it or not. Just look at the map. Zone #1 makes no sense, because no one is really saving time or distance. Zone #3 is the absolute worst thing they could do for congestion in the Route 50 corridor. Now compare Zone #2 to the other zones… The other zones are a longer distance across the Bay and are over deeper water – those facts alone will significantly increase the cost of a bridge.

        One big thing to keep in mind… Most savvy politicians do not form committees unless they already know what the answer is – it makes them look smarter and they don’t like surprises. I think the key question is how to manage the growth and sprawl. I think fighting it completely is going to be an exercise in futility.

        Regards and good luck to you sir.

        Andrew Kim

        • Mr. Kim, thank you for replying,

          Those PA license plates you see and discuss truly don’t come from over the Bay Bridge. They come down from SE PA, like we did 24 years ago, from Philly, Delaware, Chester, Montgomery, Lehigh and Lancaster Counties and travel on 301/896//213, not the Bay Bridge. As a matter of fact, most Northern MD travelers coming to the Delmarva don’t go south and east across the bridge, why would they do that and sit in that traffic that is 50% made up of people coming from Wash, DC, No. VA, So. MD. They go up, around and down to get anywhere on the Delmarva. Think you see a lot of PA plates in and around KC and RH, you should go to Lewes and Rehoboth DE.

          Reality check, the majority of shopping tax dollars are not going to stay here even if a big box store were built here, not while tax-free DE is so close, whether Middletown, Smyrna or Dover. Northern KC shoppers will go to M’town or Smyrna, eastern KC shoppers go to Smyrna or Dover. And that shopping availability creep is going to get closer to the DE/MD border as time goes on.

          Residential growth; Maryland Delmarva County growth, per data available, is all concentrated in the lower shore Counties; QA, Talbot, Dorchester, Wicomico, Worcester. Notice I’m not including all the Retirement Communities springing up in DE, of which there are a lot. Sussex County, DE is exploding with Retirement Communities. Matter of fact I know some who have moved there from here.

          Business growth; if you owned a business in NJ, PA, WV, OH, VA, NC and were truly thinking of expansion to the Delmarva, or a change in your home office corporate location, where would you locate; Kent County, MD or New Castle or Kent County, DE? Me, actually, I’d locate in Harrington, DE, just about the physical middle along Rte 1/Rte 13 between the C&D Canal and Salisbury, MD. DE is very business friendly. MD, not as much.

          Study Zones/Sub Areas; yes, the MDTA threw out an olive branch, a ‘feel good’ initiative, ‘we’re gonna broaden and expand and look at all alternatives.’. There is no way any bridge would be built in the extreme northern and southern Sub Areas of #1 and #6. That was ridiculous. As a matter of fact I challenged MDTA on that point writing in my On-Line Comment, that looking at those Zones/Sub Areas was an absolute and horrendous waste of tax-payer money.

          All of this said and written, why did you move to Kent County 11 years ago? Obviously you found KC long before that. For the same reason most of us ‘moved here’ did. And there are a lot those ‘born here’ and us ‘moved here’ citizens of KC that are willing to fight to preserve that.

  5. Jennifer Quinn says:

    Kent County is a place know for its rural areas and calm way of life. Why does that have be ripped away from us just so that people can have less traffic? It won’t benefit small businesses, instead driving them out faster, as chain stores take over our homes.

  6. Robert Kramer says:

    The County of Kent Bridge Watch Committee (which includes Mike Waal) will be on the agenda for the January 16 county commissioner meeting at 400 High Street in Chestertown to give an update. The meting starts at 6:00 pm and the presentation will be at approx 6:15 to 6:30. Come see for yourself what is or sin;t happening.

    • There is, in my opinion, no more important issue for Kent County than the potential for a Bay Bridge to be built from Baltimore to here; not wind turbines, not solar farms, not the potential closing of the hospital [cause if they build a bridge here you can bet the hospital stays open, duh!].

      In 2005 a significant number of Kent Countians were all up in arms about this very subject when the Governor at that time initiated the Bay Bridge Task Force, which filed the “2006 Task Force on Traffic Capacity Across the Chesapeake Bay” report. http://www.mdta.maryland.gov/Capital_Projects/BayCrossingStudies/TaskForceReport/TaskForceReport_Complete.pdf
      The Kent County News was full of articles, one almost every week, and letters to the editor filled pages. Delegate Mary Roe Walkup was on it. Congressman Wayne Gilchrist was on it. Mayor Margo Bailey was on it. All convening meetings to fight what was NOT a decision making process. Delegate Walkup filed Legislation to Prohibit a Northern Bay Bridge from being built.

      Myself and one other member of the Committee, and KCPA representatives Janet Christensen-Lewis and Elizabeth Watson attended a recent BBRAG meeting in which a Bay Crossing Study update was provided by MDTA staff. It was announced that ONLY 1000 viewers have watched the MDTA On-Line Presentation since Nov. 15, 2017, and that ONLY 400 comments had been received since that same date. WHAT? You read it right! Compare those numbers to the population of Kent County. No break down of where the comments came from was provided, however. And I didn’t ask, my bad!

      By-the-way, the Committee’s formal name is the “Kent County Bay Bridge Monitoring Committee”, information about which can be found at this link. It needs active members!!
      https://www.kentcounty.com/committees/baybridge

      And here we are, into the first year of a four year process TO DETERMINE WHERE A BRIDGE SHOULD BE BUILT!
      The first milestone decision comes this Fall of 2018, as provided by the Op-Ed of Elizabeth Watson, Judy Gifford, and Janet Christensen-Lewis, and the BCS Display Board visual.

      And where is the significant community involvement?

      There are those that say “a bridge will never be built here!” Well, if you’re a NEPA Tier 1 and 2 expert, maybe you know more than the majority of Kent Countians,
      because that is the process that will determine where a bridge will be built.

      GET INVOLVED KENT COUNTY!

      • Mike Waal says:

        If memory serves me correctly, reference the 2005 Task Force discussed above, I think it was Mayor Margo Bailey that started a Petition that finally obtained 2,000 signatures to support a No Bridge To Kent County effort.
        Margo, if you’re reading this, didn’t you do that?
        And I think Phil Hoon put together some kind of Action Plan to support the effort?

      • Sheila Walker says:

        I think it’s a valiant effort, but you’re too late. Why do think Andy Harris brought Paul Ryan out to Chestertown? Dixon Valve is going to need easier access to the other side with their expansion, and Harris and his club for Growth buddies are salivating over the money they’ll make turning Kent County into East Dundak. It has nothing to do with getting people to the beach, it’s about paving over Kent County.

        • Ms. Walker,

          So you’re saying KC should just give up, that Dixon Valve, Richard Goodall and family are all part of a conspiracy to pave over Kent County.
          I truly find that hard to believe.

          KC didn’t give up on allowing Walmart pave over us.
          KC hasn’t give up on allowing wind turbine developers pave over us
          KC hasn’t given up on allowing solar farm developers pave over us.
          KC hasn’t given up on allowing the hospital to close.
          KC should not give up on allowing a threatened Bay Bridge to Kent County pave over us.

          For Kent Countians who are interested in helping to stop a potential Bay Bridge from being built from Baltimore to Kent County,
          a public participation meeting is being hosted by the Kent Conservation and Preservation Alliance,
          at the Chestertown Fire Hall, on Thursday, January 25th, at 6:30PM. Come join the conversation.
          http://kentalliance.org/2018/01/12/bay-crossing-public-participation-meeting-1252018/
          Please support the Kent Conservation and Preservation Alliance and their efforts by becoming a member.
          http://kentalliance.org/join-kcpa/

          GET INVOLVED KENT COUNTY!

  7. jan eliassen says:

    Any bridge across the Bay has nothing to do with traffic and everything to do with developers and their campaign donations. A bridge to the shore will gradually destroy agriculture on the shore. The Wye Institute determined that sprawl development, not EPA regulations was the greatest threat to farming on the Shore. Sprawl development will take enough land out of farming that the critical mass needed to support feed and seed, tractor supplies, and all the other infrastructure that farmers need will not be able to continue. Every farmer on the shore should oppose this bridge to sprawl, at least those who want to continue to grow crops instead of houses.

    • Mike Waal says:

      Now we’re talkin’!!

      Without any empirical evidence to the contrary, Kent County [as some, if not most, of us are thinking], Talbot County, and Dorchester County, do NOT want another Bay Bridge built to our/their shore line.

      Queen Anne’s County DOES want another Bay Bridge built to the eastern shore, but just NOT another east bound span to their shore line, or widening of Rte 50, all else remaining the same. Additionally, within the Talbot and Dorchester Comprehensive Plans it states that the traffic during summer peak travel times is horrendous along Rte 50. The beach traffic just clogs the area so that locals have a very had time getting around their area efficiently. [Yea, I know, that gets a DUH!]

      So here is an option, an alternative, as a suggestion, for the least intrusive, cost effective, environmentally responsible plan that satisfies a lot of issues ….
      1) take away the toll booths and go to full ETLs. It really is a poor design to have 4 EZ Pass lanes “funnel down” into one east flowing lane on the west span,
      and 7 Cash/EZ Pass lanes “funnel down” into 2 lanes, and that is if the weather is right! That is a worse case scenario at best. Elimination of tolls has proven to be effective to provide free flowing traffic.
      2) build a Queenstown/Easton/Cambridge By-Pass, with Public-Private Funding just like other road expansion plans in the state, parallel to and just a little east of Rte 50, from the Rte 301/50 split down to below Cambridge. MD-SHA states that traffic flow improves as it gets closer to the Salisbury “By-Pass”, south of Cambridge. That’s what By-Passes are designed to do. Talbot and Dorchester would receive aid and relief to their Rte 50 traffic situation and issues.
      3) build a single self-suspended east bound span to provide three full lanes of unimpeded free traffic flow in both directions, no widening of Rte 50, and keep traffic off local roads.
      Build that in your minds eye, take a look at a map, see what you think. Just don’t shoot the messenger. I’m trying come up with an idea to satisfy everybody.
      [The current Bridge[s] architecture is such, b-t-w, they cannot support any additional structures; they can’t support another span hung from the current supports, or a double deck, or Mass Transit High Speed Rail.]

      To reply to Jan Eliassen, I truly don’t know what influence developers can have on a NEPA process. We can challenge anything that doesn’t look correct in the NEPA process in court, they know that, we know that. As a matter of fact, MDTA has allocated almost 10% of their Bay Crossing Study budget to contract a NEPA expert firm so that all the Is are dotted and Ts crossed. They don’t want to be sued, and if they don’t get it right they can fully anticipate being sued. So we can anticipate the NEPA process will be conducted and followed to the letter of the law.

      That said, KC needs to be fully versed in the NEPA process, and I don’t know that we are. My sense is we are not. Is there anyone in our citizenry or in KC Government that is?
      Please, some one correct me if I’m wrong, cause if there is a NEPA expert in our midst, we need you!

      One other item, here is another chance to express your opinion on what or how you think/believe Kent County should look like. I paraphrase here ….
      Having started this fall and continuing throughout the winter of 2018, the Maryland Department of Planning is conducting community outreach for
      A Better Maryland, the new state development plan. This effort will consist of a series of Listening Session Events in each Maryland County and Baltimore City.
      More information on where to attend and to complete an on-line survey, it won’t crash, can be found within this link.
      http://abetter.maryland.gov/

      GET INVOLVED KENT COUNTY!

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