SALISBURY – County leaders last week agreed to issue a letter supporting the replacement of the Bay Bridge at its current location.
Last week, Maryland Transportation Authority Acting Director William Pines, Queen Anne’s County Administrator Todd Mohn and Queen Anne’s County Commissioner Jim Moran came before the Wicomico County Council seeking mutual support for a replacement Bay Bridge situated at its current location within the I-97 and MD 404 corridor.
As the state concludes the first phase of a two-tier National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) study for the replacement of the William Preston Lane Jr. Memorial Bay Bridge, Mohn noted that both Queen Anne’s and Anne Arundel counties have entered into a joint resolution calling for the construction of at least an eight-lane bridge at or around its current location between the two counties.
“We’re asking for the support of all the Maryland jurisdictions,” he told the council. “We’ve got a few others so far.”
Officials said they were not only seeking a letter of support from councils and commissioners throughout the state, but asking them to place the Bay Bridge replacement project as a top priority within their annual Maryland Department of Transportation Consolidated Transportation Program priority letter, due by April 1.
“This is a ‘larger than all of us’ type project …,” Moran said. “The price of this project is a high one, but for your commerce, our commerce, beach traffic, your citizens, our citizens, it’s the only crossing we have. It makes sense to put it there and the state already owns the right of way. The environmental impact will be minimal there and all roads lead to that location. That’s why we support the replacement bridge, an eight-lane bridge, minimum.”
Moran noted the Bay Bridge replacement project would likely be the largest transportation project in the state’s history. He added that the two bridge spans – one completed in 1951 and the other in 1973 – were exceeding their 50-year lifespan and that traffic backups continued to grow with each season.
“Everyone who watches the news sees the issues we have during the summer months, and it’s going to get exponentially worse,” he said. “That’s why we’re out here on the trail to get support from everybody that feels the same way and sees this as a priority.”
Councilman Larry Dodd noted the concept of replacing the bridge at its current location didn’t always have the support of surrounding counties.
“There’s been a lot of discussion from members of the councils and commissions on the upper shore – even Queen Anne’s and Talbot – and it seems some of those members were against the replacement bridge or a wider bridge or even a new span,” he said. “What changed?”
Mohn noted the partnership between Queen Anne’s and Anne Arundel counties played a significant role in supporting the project.
“Now that we’ve supported, along with Anne Arundel, having a replacement bridge at the current location, others are fine with it,” he said.
“Kent County didn’t want it coming through their county and Talbot definitely didn’t want it coming through St. Michael’s,” he added. “So they’ve already joined on and have sent a letter of support to us with this location.”
Councilman Bill McCain noted that the state had selected the bridge’s current location as the preferred location for a new Bay Bridge. He noted a letter from Wicomico simply support the recommendation.
“That’s a recommendation the state has already made,” he said. “They did their study and the recommendation is to pick this corridor and they abandoned all other options is my understanding.”
Officials agreed, adding that the state would need approval from the Federal Highway Administration.
“For the record the decision is approved first by Federal Highway,” he said, “and then Maryland Transportation Authority would sign off after we receive their approval.”
When asked what the project design would look like, Moran said it would be determined in Phase II of the study. Pines noted, however, that the recommendation is to build a replacement bridge at the current location and remove the existing spans.
“We’re hoping for it to be the same location,” Moran added.
After further discussion, the council agreed to send a letter supporting the replacement of the Bay Bridge with at least an eight-lane span at the current location.