Out and About (Sort of): 3rd Bay Bridge Span Questioned by Howard Freedlander

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Last week I wrote about an engaging concept entitled Delmarva Oasis, which, if it becomes a reality, would convert a large portion of the Delmarva Peninsula into a preserve that retains and enhances the agricultural and environmental goodness of the region we call home. I noted that the prospect of a third Chesapeake Bay Bridge span imposes a certain urgency on converting this concept into a reality.

Up until recently, I favored a third span. For 30 years, I crossed the Bay Bridge to earn a living in Baltimore and Annapolis. I developed a love-hate relationship with the existing two spans, sometimes crossing easily, sometimes with annoying difficulty.

The solution to the increasing congestion and mental damage seemed obvious to me: build an additional span. The May to September “reach the beach” fervor, resulting in year-after-year inconvenience to Eastern Shore residents trying to negotiate Route 50, would be alleviated. All would be right on this side of the Bay.

I have been wrong.

A third span– either aligning with the current bridges or crossing from Baltimore to Kent County or extending from Calvert County to Dorchester County—would simply dump more vacationers on Route 50. Eastern Shore residents would continue to be imprisoned in their homes during the seasonal rush to the Maryland and Delaware beaches.

A bridge spanning the Baltimore Harbor and Kent County may seem logical based on distance and probable expense but destructive to a county with rich farmland and a predominantly agricultural economy and way of life. Kent Countians have fought hard over the years to preserve its rural character, understandably.

So, what’s the solution? Realistically, the political power supporting expansion of the two-span Bay Bridge rests on the Western Shore. This comment is not meant to disparage our fellow Marylanders on the other, well-populated side of the Chesapeake Bay.

The decision to build or not to build is not ours to make.

While we can make noise, we regretfully can do little else. Still, we must persist. Our arguments must carry sufficient force to resonate in the State House and General Assembly.

Were I able to wave a magic wand, I would opt for a rapid transit solution, one that would reduce the traffic on the Shore. I would recommend that a third span, should it be built alongside or even atop the current structures, be devoted solely to rapid transit.

A rapid transit solution not only would reduce cars, crashes, and congestion, it also would mitigate pollution in the air we breathe and the Bay we enjoy.

Would rapid transit be costly? Absolutely. Would it interfere with Americans’ love affair with their vehicles? Absolutely. Would it affect the economic fortunes of small businesses along Route 50? Very likely.

What also is rather obvious is that residents of communities on Kent Island, Grasonville, Wye Mills, Easton and Cambridge would achieve a degree of normality during 16-18 weekends. We may be able to cross Route 50 without blocking out a few hours to shop and do errands. We have been good sports for too long.

While doing some research for this column, I read about the possibility of a third span extending from Cove Point in Calvert County to Crisfield in Somerset County, taking beach traffic onto Route 113, relieving the stress on Routes 50 and 13. This is an intriguing possibility that never occurred to me during my lengthy obsession with the Bay Bridge spans.

Ignoring for the moment that residents of Somerset and Calvert counties might scream foul, I like this potential option. Admittedly, it leaves those of us on the Mid-and-Upper Shore unscathed by a third bay Bridge span; maybe our existing traffic would decrease by directing residents of the District of Columbia metropolitan area to the Lower Shore for their entry to Ocean City and Bethany Beach, Dewey Beach and Rehoboth, DE.

While literally pushing the can (cars) down the road, I remained concerned that rapid transit might be discounted as a viable, albeit expensive, option. Like so many people, I love the independence bestowed by access to my own mode of transportation. Like many other people, I would have to adopt a new mindset.

Just recently, I was at Tampa International Airport and necessarily discovered its people-mover system, SkyConnect. Use of it at first was unsettling. Then, I appreciated its convenience, efficiency and speed; Frequent travelers are accustomed to people movers at Atlanta’s huge airport and other domestic and foreign airports.

If the Eastern Shore of Maryland is going to retain its rural character and host a healthy and vibrant environment, preserving land and values, then it must not be the home of a terminus to a third Bay Bridge span. Unless that span is devoted solely to rapid transit and brings no more cars.

Preservation will entail a stubborn, reasoned resistance to more of the same. It’s worth the fight, difficult though it might be.

Columnist Howard Freedlander retired in 2011 as Deputy State Treasurer of the State of Maryland.  Previously, he was the executive officer of the Maryland National Guard. He  also served as community editor for Chesapeake Publishing, lastly at the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer.  In retirement, Howard serves on the boards of several non-profits on the Eastern Shore, Annapolis and Philadelphia. 

 

 

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Letters to Editor

  1. Maurice Taylor says:

    I believe that road improvements on both sides of the bridge, especially the Annapolis area combined with an automatic pilon system that would allow quicker lane openings and closings could help. Have more people use ez pass by charging double for cash payments could too. Last is the sorry management currently controlling the bridge. How many times have they had the two left ez pass lanes filter into the left lane and the 8 or so other lanes filter into the right lane. Not to mention that they close the extra lane eastbound if the winds get over 10 mph. Just close the center lane and have 3 eastbound and 1 westbound. Your never gonna end peak use jams completely but these could minimize them and would definitely be cheaper than building a new bridge.

  2. joe Diamond says:

    There is another reason to build it “down there.”

    IF there must be a third span across Chesapeake Bay I think more accommodation for beach traffic is not a reason to build anything. Seasonal recreation traffic is not universally beneficial. Those who use it can stand the minor traffic stress. Let them stand in line for additional accommodation .

    I say this because there is a more pressing need for an additional span. Howard almost mentioned it above. An examination of Cove Point reveals both a liquid natural gas facility and a nuclear power plant. A bridge that directed Traffic toward Church Creek would do much to allow for an emergency escape from both those potentially dangerous facilities. They have been there quite a while….they are well managed….but there are only a few escape routes. They move traffic to Washington D.C. or Annapolis. So another route would serve well.

    The regional traffic pattern would allow traffic coming from the south to leave I 95 below Dahlgren on VA 301 and continue north. If there were a crossing at Cove Point this traffic would miss Annapolis & the Bay spans & route 50 at Kent Island to below Oxford. On a day to day basis the existing Bay span would be bypassed as traffic eventually crossed Blackwater and used DE 113 north or reversed the trip to head south..

    Dorchester County is already on record as saying they would welcome the the route ( some route) so what more is there to decide?

    Joe Diamond

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