Is Another Bay Bridge Even Necessary? by Benjamin Ford

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“Is another Bay Bridge crossing even necessary?”

A recent meeting in Chestertown regarding a potential third span crossing into Kent County was incredibly well attended. By my very rough count, there were at least 250 people there on the Thursday evening. Most seemed to be against the idea of a third span and the explosive development a span would doubtlessly bring to the most rural of MD counties. Arguments were made about economics and debt, about why MD taxpayers should bankroll expenditures at Delaware beaches, about rural vistas, about prime agricultural land, and about disenfranchisement and political backstabbing. These arguments are all good ones, but I hope that the powers that be seriously look to the future to determine if creating a third span at any point across the Chesapeake is even a valid idea.

Since November of 2017, appliances have been delivered to warehouses in Southern California from manufacturers in El Paso, Texas in “big rig” trucks. Now, this isn’t anything new, but you would hardly recognize the long haul truckers driving these rigs. Disappearing fast are the men and women who delivered 70% of all goods in the US. Indeed, these new trucks are autonomous (though a human rides along as backup for now); piloted by computers and sensors, they drive through four states to deliver your washing machines and ovens at a lower cost while avoiding the busiest traffic times.

Forbes Magazine predicts that there will be over 20 million self-driving cars on the road by 2020. A recent beer delivery in Colorado was delivered by a driverless rig made by Uber. Tesla’s Elon Musk says “”Every truck we sell has Autopilot as standard,” Musk said of the Semi, which goes into production in 2019. “This is a massive increase in safety.”” Daimler, the company that owns Mercedes, is in on it too and hope to have a truck in production within a few years.

The teamsters don’t think their jobs will be obsolete for another 40 years; the developers of these trucks and software engineers in Silicon Valley say less than 5.

Our transportation system may be transformed for the average person. Most people at this point have used Uber or Lyft, or at least know what these services do. Imagine a commute where your subscription driving service pilots an autonomous car (or van) to your front door exactly when you need to leave for work? Imagine being able to order a car that will meet you in your driveway so you can go see a movie or go buy groceries. Imagine being able to meet friends out on Friday and not having to worry about overindulging.

Imagine not owning a car at all.

There is no other modern “investment” that fails to provide any sort of return (in fact, it depreciates as soon as you buy it) and sits around unused most of it’s time (with the exception of, hopefully, health insurance). Imagine all the billions of capital sitting and peoples garages and driveways instead invested in portfolios, vacations, or educations!

Imagine getting on an autonomous car, van, or bus and going to Ocean City from DC or Baltimore!

One of the coolest potential features of the autonomous driving revolution is the ability to drive in convoy. Long haul autonomous trucks will be able to essentially “park” right on another trucks bumper and draft, saving lots of energy (did I mention most of the trucks are fully electric?) and space. The same, hopefully would go for commuter autonomous vehicles.

Take the image below. It’s a satellite image of the east bound span from 2014. There are 24 cars in the quarter mile of road shown. If each car carries 1.5 people, that’s roughly 612 people on the bridge at any given time.

The image below (excuse my sloppy photoshop) shows what autonomous commuter vehicles could do for traffic “bandwidth”. If the cars (there are now roughly 70) were drafting in convoy and had the same passenger density, the passenger count on the bridge at any given time is now 1785. If ride-sharing bumps the number of people per vehicle to say, 2.5 on average, that’s 2975 people on the bridge at any given moment.

Now, I’m no engineer, but Washington State commissioned a study in 2004 (which was a LONG time ago as far as construction costs go) that sought to project cost per lane mile of suspension bridges. Their number was $67.2 million per lane mile. Even if the necessary 9 mile bridge to Tolchester were only two lanes (yeah, right), the cost would be over $1.2 billion dollars to Maryland taxpayers (and that’s just the bridge, not the legal fees or approach roads, etc.). I would hate to see Marylanders make that extraordinary investment just to see the need for increased connectivity be rendered obsolete by other, free-market technological changes.

Benjamin Ford
Chestertown, MD

P.S. Weren’t we promised flying cars by now?”

 

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Letters to Editor

  1. Mike Waal says:

    Mr. Ford.

    That is great. Have you sent this to Trans. Sec. Rahn, BSC Project Mgr. Heather Lowe, and FHWA Environmental Program Manager, Jeanette Mar?
    If not please, you should, that way it becomes a part of their process, even though it may not be part of the Comment submissions of 11-15-17 to 12-15-17.

    While everyone can send their Comments to the MDTA via the BSC Web site, https://baycrossingstudy.com/ jpgs and other such visuals won’t convey,
    and their Web site did crash during the 11-15-17 Presentation. Best to back it up with a snail mail copy via the below addresses.

    Thanks,
    Mike Waal

    Mr. Pete K. Rahn, Maryland Transportation Secretary
    P.O. Box 548
    7201 Corporate Center Drive
    Hanover, MD 21706

    Ms. Heather Lowe, Project Manager
    Maryland Transportation Authority
    Division of Planning & Program Development
    2310 Broening Highway
    Baltimore, MD 21224

    Ms. Jeanette Mar, Environmental Program Manager
    Federal Highway Administration, Maryland Division
    10 S. Howard Street, Suite 2450
    Baltimore, MD 21201

  2. Robbi Behr says:

    Thanks so much for this commentary, Ben. So many great points about looking forward with the new economy in mind. Your photoshop skillz are on point, to boot.

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