Gov. Harry Hughes announced plans to build a high Kent Narrows bridge today to replace the drawbridge on U.S. Rte. 50 and remove one of the major bottlenecks for travelers to and from Eastern Shore beaches.
The six-lane bridge is expected to be complete in 1991 and would be built next to the drawbridge, which is frequently opened to allow boats to move through the channel. The new span would be high enough to allow most marine traffic to pass underneath, thereby freeing the existing drawbridge, which will be maintained, to open on demand.
The raising of the spans on the Kent Narrows bridge, about 35 miles from Washington, can back up traffic for miles, causing exasperating delays for beach travelers and local residents throughout the summer. "It's a tremendous bottleneck," said Del. Jack Ashley (D-Eastern Shore). "If you want to test somebody's temper, you draw that bridge up."
The bridge will consist of four lanes for through traffic and two lanes that will be service roads for local traffic.
Construction on the $35 million project should begin in 1989, Hughes said. It will be financed out of a $29.4 million repayment to the Transportation Trust Fund authorized by the legislature this year. That money was taken out of the trust fund two years ago, in part to pay for Chesapeake Bay cleanup efforts.
Hughes made the announcement at his regular news conference, flanked by a group of Eastern Shore lawmakers with whom he has clashed in recent years. Last year, Hughes vetoed a bill naming the Choptank River Bridge at Cambridge for state Sen. Frederick Malkus (D-Eastern Shore), but the legislature overrode his veto. And for two years, Hughes has vetoed bills that would allow charitable organizations on the Eastern Shore to use slot machines as a fund-raising tool if some of the proceeds were given to charity.
Although several of the Eastern Shore lawmakers here today said their constituents remain up in arms over the veto of the slots bill, all lauded Hughes for his decision to add the new bridge to the list of projects planned to ease congestion on the main route to the shore. The total state commitment to those improvements comes to about $370 million over six years, said Hughes. Included in that funding are the new Malkus Bridge at Cambridge, a bridge being constructed over the Nanticoke River at Vienna, relocating Rte. 50 at Salisbury, other bridges and some reconstruction and resurfacing projects.
"We sure do appreciate it," said Ashley. "It's very much needed."
Hughes, a candidate for the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate, made the announcement before embarking on a two-day swing through Western Maryland that he billed as "an economic development tour" but that includes two appearances at Democratic clubs in that region.
Also at his news conference, Hughes said he is considering holding a public hearing on whether he should veto legislation that would move Maryland's primaries from September to May. The bill, passed by the General Assembly this year, is touted by officials in 15 southern states as a method to increase the South's influence in selecting presidential candidates.