Four Bridges by Jamie Kirkpatrick

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From time to time, I work over on the Western Shore. To get back home, I count four bridges: the Severn River Bridge, the Bay Bridge, the Kent Narrows Bridge, and last-but-hardly-least, the Chester River Bridge. With each crossing, I exhale a little more so that by the time I’m home, I’m at peace and all is well.

Bridge facts: The Severn River Bridge was built in 1920 and is officially known as the Pearl Harbor Memorial Bridge. It’s much larger cousin—the one we call the Bay Bridge—is really the Governor William Preston Lane Jr Memorial Bridge. Approximately four and a half miles long, the Bay Bridge first opened to traffic in 1952; a second (now westbound) span was added in 1973. The Bay Bridge can make for some nerve-wracking crossings: its height, narrow traffic lanes, low guardrails, and susceptibility to wind have given the Bay Bridge the dubious reputation of being one of the scariest bridges in the world. Be that as it may, the Bridge opened Maryland’s Eastern Shore to the world, changing forever—for better and for worse—the relative isolation and beauty of the Land of Pleasant Living.

But having crossed the Bay Bridge, you’re still in limbo on Kent Island. The true Eastern Shore doesn’t begin until you’ve crossed the Kent Narrows Bridge, the one that spans the waterway connecting the Chester River to the Eastern Bay while also joining Kent island to the Delmarva Peninsula. Holly’s used to greet you on the eastern side of the bridge, but now Holly’s is just another Royal Farms. Sad.

There’s still one bridge to go: our own dear Chester River Bridge. Only 1465 feet long, this charming little bascule structure built in 1930 connects Queen Anne’s County to Kent County and for those of us on the Chestertown side, it’s a constant source of gossip and speculation. Does it need repair or maintenance? Will it be closed for a few weeks?? You mean we have to go all the way to Crumpton to cross the river??? Serious questions for our town and its little concrete lifeline to QAC and the great beyond!

But wait: there’s an elephant in the room. It’s the specter of yet another bridge, a potential new span across the northern Bay that would form a direct connection between Tolchester in Kent County at the eastern terminus and Harford County and the northern Baltimore suburbs at the western terminus. Opponents cite the project’s staggering cost (at least $7 billion), along with problems like unholy traffic congestion, environmental degradation, unchecked development, and disastrous changes to the farms and serene pace of life here in Kent County. Proponents point out the merits of badly needed economic development, an expanded tax base providing for improved schools and services, and the potential for regulated and carefully planned development. No matter which side of the bridge debate you’re on (no pun intended), a new crossing would constitute a massive political, economic, environmental, and cultural undertaking with far-reaching and long-lasting consequences for those of us who live here now and for generations to come.

But I’m not here to fight that battle today. As you might guess, I’m looking at bridges and seeing metaphors. I like bridges because they make connections; they join two sides; they span differences. So I wonder: why can’t we just build a bridge that crosses the aisle in the halls of Congress? Who could build a bridge that would span the wide political gulf that seems to surround us on all sides these days? Just wondering…

When I drive here, west to east, I count my four bridges like mile-markers along the way. When I finally reach this side of the Chester, I know I’m home.

I’ll be right back.

Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer with homes in Chestertown and Bethesda. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Washington College Alumni Magazine, and American Cowboy magazine. “A Place to Stand,” a book of photographs and essays about Landon School, was published by the Chester River Press in 2015.  A collection of his essays titled “Musing Right Along” was published in May 2017; a second volume of Musings entitled “I’ll Be Right Back” will be released in June 2018.  Jamie’s website is www.musingjamie.com.

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Letters to Editor

  1. Joyce Kim says

    Jamie Kiekpatrick, I love everything you write. I definitely feel the way you do when you cross those bridges. When I go over the Bay bridge I open all my car windows to get the fresh air, blowing in the feeling I’m coming home again. As you say, the Chester River Bridge means I am home. Thank you.

  2. Briggs Cunningham says

    Let’s move into the future. Let’s build a high-speed, light-rail system using existing infrastructure that will connect Wilmington, Dover, Baltimore, Washington and Annapolis with Queenstown, Cambridge, Easton, Salisbury and Ocean City. Future generations will marvel at how smart we were to plan that far ahead.

  3. Jamie: Thanks for an interesting description of the bridges we frequently cross to get back and forth to DC…you might also consider that the Bay Bridge is actually four bridges itself–the concrete beam spans near the shore; the steel girder spans a little farther out; a cantilever span over the eastern channel; and the big suspension span in the middle. Maryland Public Television did a great documentary on the Bay Bridge a few years ago that explains all that. Makes for interesting thoughts as you drive…just don’t get distracted!

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