Council Supports Bay Bridge Plan

OCEAN CITY – While the state continues to wrestle with alternative Chesapeake Bay bridge crossings, resort officials this week lent their support for a replacement eight-lane span at the existing location.

For the last few years, the Maryland Transportation Authority has been exploring options to replace the existing William Preston Lane Jr. Memorial Bay Bridge over the Chesapeake Bay. The state legislature has approved funding for a two-tiered study for the best options, the first of which has been completed.

Options explored have included replacing the existing spans along Route 50 that run between Queen Anne’s County at the eastern terminus and Anne Arundel County at the western terminus. Other options have included a new crossing in southern Maryland connecting that area of the state to the lower Eastern Shore, or a new crossing north on the existing spans.

On Tuesday, at the request of both Queen Anne’s and Anne Arundel counties, the Mayor and Council approved a resolution supporting a replacement of the existing spans in their current locations. Mayor Rick Meehan pointed out while jurisdictions on both sides of the bay will ultimately be affected by whatever plans for a new crossing are finally approved, Anne Arundel and Queen Anne’s stand the most to lose or gain.

“We were requested to support this by the other counties and the reason I feel support is warranted is the fact that it is supported by the counties that are directly affected,” he said. “These are the counties where the bridge will reside basically.”

Meehan said the request to support the resolution came from both counties, but the final decision could have an impact on Ocean City.

“I’ve never been one, and I don’t think the council is either, to interfere with local jurisdictions or their decisions,” he said. “In this case, we are being asked to support the decision and the preferences of those local jurisdictions. Of course, in the long-range and in the future, the expansion and the track they are trying to do here with a third bridge certainly will benefit the Town of Ocean City as well.”

The original two-lane bridge was completed in 1952, and at the time was the longest continuous over-water steel structure. The parallel span was added in 1973 and the two bridges remain in the same place today.

According to the resolution, the five lanes of the Bay Bridge that currently cross the Chesapeake Bay have not been adequate to effectively manage peak period traffic for many years and the approaching six-lane segments of Route 50 are not geometrically compatible with the five lanes crossing the bay.

As a result, MDOT frequently opens one lane in either direction in an effort to compensate for traffic demands during times of peak congestion with a plan called contraflow. Even with contraflow efforts, the congestion has now become routine in both directions and traffic often backs up for miles.

According to the resolution approved by the Mayor and Council on Tuesday, “the best solution to maintain forward progress, support the investments already made along the US Route 50-301 corridor, specifically from I-97 to MD 404, and address the existing and future traffic capacity shortfalls is to replace the current two spans of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge with a single new replacement bridge, constructed at the same location, that includes a minimum of eight travel lanes to provide adequate capacity and dependable and reliable travel times.”

The council voted unanimously to support the resolution calling for a new eight-lane span roughly in the location of the existing Bay Bridge spans.

About The Author: Shawn Soper

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Shawn Soper has been with The Dispatch since 2000. He began as a staff writer covering various local government beats and general stories. His current positions include managing editor and sports editor. Growing up in Baltimore before moving to Ocean City full time three decades ago, Soper graduated from Loch Raven High School in 1981 and from Towson University in 1985 with degrees in mass communications with a journalism concentration and history.