Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) planned to announce on Friday a $50 million commitment to replace the Dover Bridge, an 81-year-old swing-span structure on Maryland’s Eastern Shore that has become a symbol of the state’s inability to fund its transportation needs.
The existing bridge across the Choptank River just outside Easton has long been prone to mechanical malfunctions, resulting in colossal traffic backups.
Despite strong support for replacing the bridge among local lawmakers, the project stalled under O’Malley and two previous governors.
“I’ve been fighting for a new Dover Bridge since 1994,” said state Sen. Richard F. Colburn (R-Dorchester), one of several lawmakers briefed about O’Malley’s plans to move forward with a replacement. “I couldn’t be more ecstatic.”
The new bridge will be included in a package of Eastern Shore transportation improvements that O’Malley plans to announce at the site of the existing bridge, aides said.
The event will be the latest in a series of announcements by O’Malley following passage this year of a major transportation funding bill that will gradually raise gas taxes. The bill was opposed by many Republican and conservative Democratic lawmakers from the Eastern Shore.
The first increase — 3.5 cents per gallon — took effect last month. By mid-2016, motorists can expect to pay as much as 20 cents more per gallon, according to legislative analysts. The legislaton is projected to raise $4.4 billion over six years for transportation projects.
Colburn, who voted against the legislation, credited O’Malley with “putting transportation and safety needs ahead of partisan politics.”
Among other problems, backups on the existing bridge have impeded ambulances’ access to a local hospital.
The bridge became an issue in the 2010 election between O’Malley and former governor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R), who was attempting to return to office after his defeat by O’Malley four years earlier.
During tight budget times, Ehrlich staged an event at one end of the bridge and criticized O’Malley for withholding funding for a new structure. Many of the motorists who crossed the bridge, responding to signs held by residents, honked to show support for a replacement.
Transportation officials say the new bridge will be a high-level, fixed-span structure that, unlike the current bridge, will not need to open to allow river traffic to pass. The existing bridge, one of three remaining single swing-span bridges in Maryland, is eligible for the National Register of Historic Places, officials said.
It will remain with the swing span in an open position for river traffic.