Friday, October 24–Officials Air Bay Bridge Concerns

SNOW HILL – State elected officials called for something to be done to prevent future serious congestion on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge during the Maryland Department of Transportation’s (MDOT) annual tour meeting with Worcester County elected officials.

State Sen. Lowell Stoltzfus, co-chair of a recent Bay Bridge study conducted under former Gov. Bob Ehrlich’s administration, said the state must take action on the span in the near future.

“It’s going to be sit still traffic for hours at a time in the next five to eight years if nothing is done,” said Stoltzfus.

The Eastern Shore will continue to develop, the Somerset County resident said, despite anti-growth interests, and the traffic over the bridge must be accommodated.

“If we don’t build another bridge we’re going to be in trouble in the future with Ocean City,” Stoltzfus said.

Traffic must be kept flowing to Ocean City, he felt, which is the revenue generator for Worcester County.

If necessary, said Stoltzfus, higher tolls should be established, with some mechanism to reduce the impact on regular commuters.

Delegate Page Elmore said that the state could bond out the cost of the third Bay Bridge span, as it has done for the massive Intercounty Connector (ICC) project in the southwest part of the state.

“It would mean so much to our economy,” Elmore said. “If we can do the ICC, I think we can also do the bridge one way or the other.”

A new span for the Bay Bridge could take 15 years to come to fruition, said Elmore.

“We do know we need to make every effort to maximize capacity on the Bay Bridge,” said MDOT Secretary John D. Porcari. “We do know the Bay Bridge is crucial to both Eastern and Western shores.”

Money is the top sticking point in transportation projects, more so this year after the worldwide economic downturn, numerous officials agreed this week.

Vehicle title and registration fees are down, as is fuel tax revenue, all of which provide substantial amounts of highway and transportation infrastructure funding.

“I’m not sure what the future holds at this point,” said Porcari.

Bob Hulburd of the County Residents Action for Safe Highways group urged MDOT and the state to find new, creative ways to fund tramsportation projects, from the Bay Bridge to Route 113.

“The time is now. You need to be looking at it now,” Hulburd said.

At this week’s meeting, MDOT officials also updated the County Commissioners on the future replacement of the Route 50 Bridge into Ocean City.

The bridge, built in 1942, is in good structural shape, according to Pedersen, but will need to be replaced in 10 to 15 years.

Citizen input has been gathered at a number of public meeting over the last couple years in Ocean City. Some alternatives have been ruled out, and MDOT expects to select a replacement alternative in the next few months, Pedersen said.

“This is going to be a very expensive project. The alternates that have been studied range up to $400 million,” he said.

This spring, the second half of the new bridge surface overlay will be added, between March and mid-May. Like last year, two lanes will be closed with a single lane of traffic each way during much of the work. The bridge sidewalks will also be resurfaced.

In other news, Shore Transit will see less money than expected this year, MDOT officials reported. While demand is up, revenues meant to fund the tri-county bus system are down.

“We’re extremely rural in Worcester County. We have to be able to move our people to work,” said Commissioner Louise Gulyas.