“No Bay Bridge to Kent,” Say Residents

Share

Is a new Bay Bridge coming to Kent County? If a standing-room crowd that filled Chestertown Firehouse Thursday night has its way, the answer will be a resounding “No.”

The meeting, organized by the Kent Conservation and Preservation Alliance (KCPA), was meant as a way to inform residents of the process by which the state of Maryland will make its decision on a bridge, and to motivate opponents to get involved in stopping the route from coming through Kent.

Janet Christensen-Lewis opened the meeting by introducing KCPA board members and the elected officials in the audience. Present were Kent County Commissioners Ron Fithian and Bill Short, Chestertown Mayor Chris Cerino, Councilmen Marty Stetson and David Foster, Judge Harris Murphy, Clerk of the Court Mark Mumford, and representatives sent by Sen. Chris Van Hollen and Rep. Andy Harris. Christensen-Lewis then gave an overview of the mission of KCPA, calling the landscape of Kent County “a natural oasis” that must be preserved. She said the Maryland Department of Transportation is “using a 20th-century model” to solve 21st-century transportation problems. A bridge from Baltimore to Kent County would not be “harmonious with the land or the people,” she said, turning the county into a suburb of Baltimore.  Large portions of Kent County’s fertile farmland would be turned into roads with the inevitable strip malls–picture Kent Island on Rt. 50.  Housing developments would most likely follow quickly–picture Middletown, DE.  And once lost, once paved over, this beautiful and fruitful farmland cannot be restored.

Elizabeth Watson and Janet Christensen-Lewis of Kent Conservation and Preservation Alliance

The idea of a bridge from the western shore to Kent County goes way back.  The first known proposal for a bridge to cross the bay was in 1907 but nothing came of it until the 1920s, Christensen-Lewis said. Plans were proceeding in 1927 but the project was derailed by the stock market crash of 1929 and the subsequent arrival of the Depression. A revived proposal, in 1938, had to be put aside when World War II broke out. When the idea again became possible, after the war, the route chosen went through Kent Island, taking advantage of roads already existing to serve the ferry service that previously brought passengers across the bay, The bridge was completed in 1952, and a parallel span was completed in 1973. But with the increase of traffic over the years, the Maryland Transportation Authority (MDTA) now seeks a way to reduce strain on the current bridge – and thus the call for a new bridge – which would not, she said, be a solution in the long run.

Christensen-Lewis stated that we can stop this, but “The time to raise hell is now,” she said.

Some of the standing room crowd at the firehouse meeting

Elizabeth Watson then took the microphone to outline theMDTA process and timelines for major decisions and ways Kent County residents can work to influence them.  A new five-million-dollar study sponsored by the MDTA is looking at possible locations for a new bridge across the Chesapeake Bay.  The study began in fall 2017 and will continue through 2020. MDTA is considering sites along the entire length of the Bay from north to south. The study will identify 10-15 possible corridors for the crossing by fall 2018. From these initial possibilities, MDTA will select a single location for a crossing, including a bridge plus approaches (access highways and bridges) on both the eastern and western shores of the bay. MDTA’s final decision will come in 2020.

Public comment will be accepted at all phases of the project, but once the choice of a route is made, it will be all but impossible to overturn it. Therefore, she said, it is essential to apply pressure while there is still the chance for it to affect the process.

There is a good possibility that a Kent County location could be the final choice as it is almost directly across from Baltimore. However, if the study concludes that the bridge should originate somewhere other than Baltimore, then other routes — including a third span parallel to the existing two between Sandy Point and Kent Island — become possible. That is what the MDTA study is currently working to determine and why it’s important for residents to make their opinions known now. Some southern counties, including Dorchester, have said they would welcome a bridge to their shores. In Queen Anne’s which has the Route 50 traffic from the current bridge, opinion is mixed, Watson said.

A map for a Kent County option (above) shows three possible routes connecting a new bay bridge to Route 301; one going through Kennedyville and connecting to 301 near Millington, another routed slightly up the Chester River from Chestertown, and a third downriver from Chestertown.  The above map, prepared by KCPA, assumes a  third span originating in Baltimore and ending near Tollchester in Kent County.

Watson said the MDTA had received some 400 comments by mid-December 2017, which she said the agency characterized as an “unprecedented” high number.  She said KCPA has prepared sample letters for residents who want to add their own comments. Attendees at the meeting were given the samples along with a pre-addressed envelope to mail the signed letter. They can be downloaded from the KCPA website.  It is not too late to send letters, she stressed.  A large volume of letters will definitely make both politicians and government officials take notice.  But, she added that Kent County residents have basically only nine months to make their opinions known as the three recommended routes will be announced next fall. The address to send letters about a new Chesapeake Bay bridge, pro or con, is “Ms. Heather Lowe, Bay Crossing Study, MD Transportation Study, 21310 Broening Hwy., Baltimore, MD 21224.”

Suggested wording for one of the sample letters reads: “Dear Ms. Lowe: Building another bridge to the Eastern Shore is the last thing the Eastern Shore needs.  New highways encourage more travelers; more travelers encourage more development, and more development will destroy the very nature of the ‘Shore that attracts people to visit.  As the Baltimore Sun op-ed article said, “Let the Eastern Shore be.” Don’t build a new crossing over the bay.  Sincerely,”

An online comment form that you can fill out is here.

While Maryland government sources list the bridge itself as an estimated 4 billion-dollar project, Watson said that it would probably be more like 20 billion when all the associated costs are considered, including buying the land and constructing the connecting roads.  If some landowners were unwilling to sell, then their land would most likely be acquired through eminent domain at an estimated fair market price.

Just inside entrance of Chestertown Fire Hall where the meeting took place, the old fire truck was decorated with “No Bridge” signs

The Kent County route has its supporters, who see it not only as a more direct route from Baltimore to Ocean City but as a quicker route for trucks headed north.  Those who favor a new bridge believe that it will also have the benefit of reducing wear on the current bridges, where truck traffic is 10 percent of the volume. It would also open up Kent County to development much in the way Kent Island has become a suburb of Annapolis. Given that some 57 percent of the county is prime farmland, that could be a disaster to the agricultural community that makes up one of Kent’s strongest components. On the other hand, the Baltimore Sun printed an editorial Jan. 2, this year, titled “Let the Eastern Shore Be,” that strongly opposed the Kent County route.

Watson listed actions residents opposed to the Kent County route can take,  In addition to writing letters, actions can include displaying yard signs – there were several at the meeting with the legend “No Bay Bridge to Kent” – donating to KCPA, and passing the word to friends and acquaintances who may be unaware of the threat posed by the bridge.

County Commissioners Ron Fithian and Bill Short tell about efforts to prevent a new bridge from coming to Kent County

Watson then invited public officials to comment, and Ron Fithian took the floor to list actions taken by the commissioners. Fithian said the commissioners testified against a General Assembly bill that would repeal a provision by which five of the nine Eastern Shore counties must approve any new toll road, bridge, or highway on the shore. He said state Sen. Mike Middleton, chair of the committee studying the bill, called it “a terrible precedent.” Middleton’s probable opposition gives hope that the bill would fail. “I feel good about the situation,” Fithian said, implying that he thought the bill to repeal the Eastern Shore counties right to approve or disapprove any new toll road on the shore would not pass.  He said that such a bill would unfairly silence the voices of those directly affected.

Short said the commissioners are doing their part to oppose the bridge coming to Kent County and said it was good to see so many residents at the meeting. Both Short and Fithian testified against the repeal before the Maryland Senate Finance Committee. All nine Eastern Shore counties have sent letters opposing the proposed Senate bill 34.

Clerk of the Court Mark Mumford said he would lie down in front of the bulldozers.

Mark Mumford, during an audience comment period, said he swore in the 1960s that he would be the first to lie down in front of the bulldozers to prevent any bridge from coming to Kent County. He said he was ready to do it again if such a route is approved. He urged residents to “get to your delegates” and let them know you oppose a Kent County crossing.

More details of the proposed bridge crossing and links to other relevant websites are available on the KCPA website.  Kent Conservation and Preservation Alliance, which organized the standing-room-only meeting, is a 501(c)3, all-volunteer, non-profit group. KCPA merged last year with Kent Conservation, which was founded in 1970 and has been a leader in local conservation ever since.  KCPA plans more meeting to keep residents informed.  An Op-Ed article titled A Bridge to Somewhere by KCPA stalwarts Judy Gifford, Janet Christensen-Lewis, and Elizabeth Watson published earlier this month in the Chestertown Spy, looks at some of the stated and unstated reasons for a third Chesapeake Bay bridge.

The current study–which will identify the recommended and two preferred-alternate routes for a third Chesapeake Bay bridge–is a National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) study.  The Maryland Transportation Authority (MDTA) owns, finances, operates and maintains the Bay Bridge, officially titled the William Preston Lane, Jr. Memorial Bridge.  More information on the study, which is scheduled to end in 2020, can be found at $5 million Bay Crossing Study.

Correction: The above article was edited on 30 Jan 2018, to clarify that 10 to 15 possible bridge locations will be announced in fall 2018 while the final choice will be determined sometime in mid-2020.  As originally published, the article said that three possible sites would be announced in fall 2018.

Photo gallery below.  Photography by Jane Jewell

 

 

Professor John Seidel of Washington College urged audience members to take action now because it will be almost impossible to change it after a final location is selected.

Marjo Rasin (center) and former Chestertown Mayor Margo Bailey (left)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

####

 

*

Letters to Editor

  1. Marty Stetson says:

    I will advise all Kent County residents to get involved, if not for yourself for the generation of people who will follow us and live here in the county. There will be pollution, traffic congestion and crime come to our land if the bridge is built. You can get involved in three different ways, put up a yard sign, write to the bridge authority and donate to the Kent Conservation and Preservation Alliance or do as I have done and do all three.

  2. Carol Casey says:

    Thank you for this article and thanks to the people of Kent County for coming together against this terrible idea.

  3. Patsy Hornaday says:

    It is indeed “a bridge too far” and so good to see so many Chestertown neighbors turn out at the meeting
    in opposition to this costly and unnecessary proposal. We have two great bridges now: the Chester
    River crossing and the present Bay Bridge from the Western Shore. Best fun is by boat!

  4. Phil Ticknor says:

    This is all well and good and I’m no fan of a bridge here (more because of it making us a Baltimore suburb than because of through traffic) but I hope to someday see signs in yards and this kind of community involvement FOR something instead of just against something.

    We have a long history of knowing what we don’t want. Let’s figure out what we do want and how we can actually get there.

  5. Brandon Righi says:

    I’m an Eastern Shore native and I have fond memories of my rural childhood. But I also have memories of being incredibly bored, lonely, and unchallenged in my sub-par public schools. Unsurprisingly, I left for good after graduating from WAC and now work in New York City. I live in an amazing suburb in northern NJ and am in awe of the opportunities that children have in this environment—I’m thrilled that my children will have so much more at their disposal than I could have dreamed of.

    Sure, I fantasize about the low cost of living back on the Shore. My wife and I sometimes talk about moving back and living like kings. But we never will for the reasons that many have pointed out here: lack of work, lack of opportunity, lack of good medical care and decent schools, lack of diversity (of ethnicity and of thought)…I could go on and on.

    Folks, let’s be honest. That bridge will get built. It might not be this time. But it will eventually get built. The population of the DC-Boston corridor is booming, and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. Rather than lying down in front of bulldozers and inevitable progress, why not embrace the change. Instead of obstinately declaring “over my dead body,” why not start to plan smartly for the inevitable?

    I don’t want to see the Eastern Shore spoiled like what we’ve seen in Delaware. But let’s value Delaware for what it is: a great example of how to NOT do growth. Modernity and progress will come for you eventually, Kent County. You can either scream and wail and be unprepared, or you can start figuring out how to have this growth (and its subsequent windfalls) best benefit the people of the region.

    • Deirdre LaMotte says:

      Yes it is difficult. I grew up in Alexandria, Virginia when restaurants and shops were locally owned. Low-income people lived within blocks of the Potomac and hand stores where they could shop.

      Let us look now at Alexandria. If one is lucky to make half a million a year, one would love it. If not, one has a ridiculous commute, hours perhaps, driving from a far out suburb. Gone are the fun antique and riding shops in rural Fairfax…it is now covered in concrete. Gone is affordable housing, a diversity of neighbors and a sense of place. As much as your need for all is understandable, perhaps a suburbanization of this precious place is overkill? Yes, it doesn’t have “it all” but what one “needs” one can drive and get it or find here. What one has here is a place that understands its soul and wishes to preserve it for our grandchildren and all others.

      • joseph diamond says:

        Hi Deirdre,
        I had the same experience. As a child growing up in Takoma Park, Maryland I watched what happened inside the Beltway….remember Northern VA as you describe it. I remember being taken “out in the country”,,,,to the roads between Washington and Baltimore near where Columbia, Maryland now sits. It all looked like Kent County. It all vanished in less than fifty years.

        So I see what you are describing. I think the question is how to fix this place so our kids will hang around. There is nothing for them to do. Left as it is the day could come when all the farm are operated by robots and the people observe bank balances. If we open the gates ( build a bridge) the alternative occurs; this garden becomes Glen Burnie or worse.

        What has been called smart growth need another look. What infrastructure could be added to attract a few hundred more LaMotte Chemicals or Dixon Valves? Is there a world beyond growing corn and beans?

        joe

        • Hi, Joe – “That map” is a guesstimate solely by Kent Conservation and Preservation Alliance volunteers; several of us have been active in local planning here and elsewhere. We assume that connecting with 301 “somewhere” is the best way to funnel traffic down to Route 50 and the stated goal for the project now, to reduce beach-going congestion on the bridge (and commuter traffic). Others who have seen that map have had the same reaction on behalf of the western shore – that drivers in that region would make common cause with Kent County in reaction to the idea of adding more traffic to their already-strained roads. We assume there would be more truck traffic on a northern Bay crossing if close enough to the Port of Baltimore.

          As for what will happen to Kent County’s current zoning if a bridge were to be built here, Kent County is fortunate to have excellent planning and zoning aimed at protecting Kent County’s character and economy, but that can always change in response to changes in demand by developers and property owners, and the community’s wishes. Right now, it pays for Kent County to support agriculture and seek to avoid sprawl that is expensive to serve.

          Finally, there is no regional plan for land use planning and growth beyond Kent County’s comprehensive plan, although there is a Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy under development by the Upper Shore Regional Council (serving Cecil, Kent, and Queen Anne’s). The environmental impact study that the Maryland Transportation Authority is undertaking is a first pass at simply identifying a mile-wide corridor of land where a bridge and road could go (actual alignment comes later). There is a requirement for that study to undertake an analysis of direct, indirect, and cumulative impacts from such a project, including socioeconomic impacts. That would help you assess regional impacts, although there would be no plan per se to help the region begin to coping with the impacts identified.

          Among these comments, I think someone else observed that they wish Kent Countians would be FOR something. I disagree that we are not already FOR something. I believe we are FOR conserving Kent County’s quality of life, economy, character, and communities. But I do agree that this is a moment for Kent County’s residents to have some important conversations about what this means.

          In that spirit, Kent Conservation and Preservation Alliance invites you to hear renowned author Tony Hiss on his vision for “Delmarva Oasis,” on February 20 at 7 pm at Washington College’s Hodson Hall. Visit kentalliance.org or sign up for the event directly at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/delmarva-oasis-tickets-42670508640?aff=es2.

      • Ann Miller says:

        Yes, it doesn’t “have it all” but what one “needs” one can drive and get it or find here.

        Exactly. We were unable to get decent education for our children, so we needed to drive to another area to provide it to our children.
        Wanted more out of a career than LaMotte, Dixon or any other limited industry in KC could give us, so we needed to drive elsewhere.
        Wanted to go to the movies, bowling, eat out someplace different, browse a bookstore,and have a broader range of shopping opportunities. Had to drive elsewhere….hell I’d just love to go to ACME and not have to wait in a long line no matter the time of day or day of the week –
        There are a lot of people & families that are choosing to leave the area to get their “needs” met. A lot of young adults are choosing not to come back into the area once they have embarked on their careers and are thinking of starting families. Sure they love to come home and visit, go hunting, do a bit of fishing & crabbing. But they sure do appreciate having a few more options.

        I think Mr. Righi had some very valid points, obviously he has the ability to appreciate what is here and the special qualities of the area as a native. He also has the insight and unclouded view of someone who can see whats going on around us and the reality of our situation.

    • I have the pleasure each morning to listen to birds chirping and watches eagles sour behind my home. I live in a relatively quiet place. I chose to live in Kent County because it put me smack dab in the middle to the towns my client base has offices in, DC,Maryland and Philly, so I am happy as a clam. I volunteered as a youth basketball coach and worked many summers with our youth, having a chance to know them as they are local to this area. What, I found out, has depressed me since those days, no jobs, not any chance of having a equal or quality education compared to our neighbors to the north and south of us. The lack of a strong economic development plan except for tourism and more tourism. I say these things because our community lives in a bubble, a bubble of our own making, back in California its called “NIMBYISM”, not in my back yard, bubble town, nimbyism all the same. I was attracted here because of the price of homes was cheaper than my former home in Carmel California, so Kent Country was attractive.

      Since we moved here many things have changed but many have stayed the same, one is the ability to change and the ability to adjust to inevitable changes, that if one would or could take off their blinders could see that change is happening around us. As a person of color, change is a everyday occurrence, not just in our nation but in the time my wife and I have lived here. As a person of color, I have seen more people moving from other places, a drastic change in the historical and systemic racism that is ingrained into the fabric of our county, much has changed. When I read the argument about the instance of strip malls and crime, with a bridge coming here, I see all the change that has occurred is going backwards to perceptions about who might use the bridge to settle here and bring with them their crime and poverty, that is what I read into all the comments against having a bridge come through Kent County. Many making comments travel to Dover or Middletown for a movie, cheaper gas or to go to Wal-Mart.

      Still all you see is your selfish ends and not looking at the bigger picture of how we might be able to retain our young people and families from moving to other locales. Laying down in front of bulldozers as Mr. Mumford suggested he would, Marty Stetson saying to protest today, tomorrow and everyday. By the time the bridge is built many of you will be gone and the legacy you are trying to leave is one for your grandchildren and their children, has a great possibly making Chestertown, a “Ghost Town” for generations to come.

  6. The Chestertown Volunteer Fire Company allowed the use of their building for the informational meeting on the Bay Crossing Study. Assistance provided by the CVFC members helped make the event a huge success.
    The Volunteer Fire Companies throughout the county are important not only for providing aid during emergencies, but also for providing community meeting places where residents can gather together for a variety of activities.
    Kent County is lucky to have these volunteers willing to serve the community.
    Thank you Chestertown Volunteer Fire Company.

  7. Joseph Doamond says:

    Does that map actually reflect a plan that is being considered?

    It looks like it connects with the outer harbor crossing road system. Is there actually a plan to increase truck traffic on that system? It is now choked with commuter traffic. The outer harbor bridge is likewise already busy.

    Is a connection with MD 301 really part of the plan?

    What will happen to the planning and zoning laws that have much of Kent County zoned agricultural? How will a bridge work to allow any growth here among the crop fields?

    I would like to see the regional plan.

    Joe Diamond

    • joseph diamond says:

      A little further investigation points to four distinct routes. One, known as the norther route (zone 1) goes through Kent County. The emphasis of all the routes is not just a bridge from here to anywhere. Planners are looking at traffic flow along the east coast.

      Zone 1—Baltimore County to Kent County; YOU ARE HERE!…………..An old plan showed a bridge to Tolchester in the vicinity of the old amusement park. This is probably no longer under consideration. There are many reasons why Kent County would not be a contender for a third span. The route shown above is probably not part of the regional plan. There are other possibilities that should be explored.

      Zone 2—Anne Arundel County to Queen Anne’s County;

      Zone 3—Anne Arundel/Calvert Counties to Talbot County (near St. Michaels); and,

      Zone 4—Calvert County to Dorchester County.

      • Hello again, Joe – there are not four zones, but six. See https://www.baycrossingstudy.com/images/public_meetings/2017-11-15%20Online%20Scoping%20Meeting/Bay%20Crossing%20Study%20Online%20Scoping%20Meeting%20Display%20Boards.pdf. (Scroll to the third board.) The report with four zones is from the 2006 Task Force Report, and as far as we know everything is back on the table. Please comment directly to MdTA, too. https://www.baycrossingstudy.com/public-involvement/comment

        • joseph diamond says:

          Hi Elizabeth,

          Four zones are six? If that helps OK. My thought was to expand the focus on evil bridges coming here. I do not see more reason-the- beach traffic as a priority that would mean a connection to 301 & 50 to Ocean City, OC limited out years ago (my opinion) and more roads will not expand the capacity of that town, Besides there are now airports to take vacationers everywhere.

          Likewise the idea of Tolchester as a bridge site could probably be removed. There is now a concentration of modern homes down there and no amusement park. There is a marina. None of this justifies a bridge of itself.

          What I am watching is a future looking plan for traffic movement on the east coast. This would include truck traffic coming from the south and heading through the region on the way north and maybe a return trip. So a connection that bypasses Richmond, Washington and Baltimore would be of importance. A connection to the Delaware Memorial Bridge and the NJTPK would be part of the mix along with a reconnection with 95 as it heads north.

          I have not seen much that includes Kent County.

          I’ll take a look at the links you posted.

          Thanks,

          Joe

          • joseph diamond says:

            Elizabeth,

            Thank you……..Joe – there are not four zones, but six……….( proposed bridge routes ). Using the map above must have been intentionally misleading. The two northern zones make sense. Either one could (1) move traffic through Kent County
            ( 2) make sense as an origin & landing on both side of the Bay.
            (3) have a minimum impact on the Kent County population.
            The same people who want to lie in from of the bulldozers could relax…After completion nobody would even know they were there. The additional commercial development could happen in Delaware.

            They ran a meeting based on that old plan?

            Yikes!

            joe

          • “Tolchester” means “Tolchester area” – the crossing would be drawn somewhere around there where a bridge landing makes engineering/cost sense (the fewer houses the better, and if there’s not a road connection they’ll just build it, likely four-lane, perhaps six-lane (someday?), all the way to a connection to 301).

            Trucks will be able to bypass the busy I-95 corridor completely on four-lane roads from the Delaware River Bridge to Norfolk, once the Middletown Bypass is finished, but mostly I expect that new bypass will increase truck traffic to and from the “our” Bay Bridge at Kent Island, perhaps especially southbound (no tolls after the Middletown Bypass). If they build a bridge in Kent, it will serve the Port of Baltimore, commuters, and beachgoers (in that order, in my opinion).

            No one ran a meeting based on the old plan. There is NO current plan, that’s just all getting started again. MdTA ran one “meeting” on Nov. 15, when they announced the process. Kent County residents will know more (1) in the spring, when the “purpose and need” document is introduced to the public (justifying the project, whatever it may be, including describing who is expected to use the bridge, from what parts of the western shore), and (2) in the fall, when this phase of the planning process will spit out ten to fifteen proposed corridors about a mile wide (crossings plus access roads) plus a “no build” option. The “no build option allows comparison with “build” options.

  8. Briggs Cunningham says:

    Greetings from Ireland!
    If it is true, as the article states, that the “Maryland Transportation Authority (MDTA) now seeks a way to reduce strain on the current bridge,” why not add on to the current spans in a creative, technologically-advanced way…for instance, construct an addition that is dedicated for super-fast, light rail with stations in Annapolis, DC, B-more, Centreville, Salisbury, and Ocean City? Let’s get over cars and move into the future.
    Cheers!

  9. Steven Ortel says:

    The first step to improve life in Maryland is to fix the two sewage treatment plants (STP) in Baltimore which are the main source of pollution in CB and in violation of there permits. No more Baltimore poop in the CB. Perhaps use the bridge money to build all new STP in the state of Maryland. We have heard about saving the bay for 40 years time to build STP instead of bumper stickers. Remember the ES motto ” Thank you for visiting , now go home”.

  10. Bocambi cain says:

    I m a resident born and raised in Kent county , this area needs the jobs and school s needs the funds a bridge could bring yes there is a risk but in life there is a risk the deer and the wildlife do not pay taxes even traffic and drugs means more police jobs we need not to be afraid of the future fear is how everything Withers and dies

  11. George Davidsen says:

    Hi,
    I’m on the ‘other’ side (westen shore) and my homstead is almost under the lines drawn in your map. There are too many reasons why we do NOT need another bridge. I ask that the people of Kent County team up with those of us on the opposite side.
    Sincerely,
    George-

Write a Letter to the Editor on this Article

We encourage readers to offer their point of view on this article by submitting the following form. Editing is sometimes necessary and is done at the discretion of the editorial staff.