The state’s choice wasn’t a surprise, as Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) had said of the state study in 2019: “There is only one option I will ever accept: adding a third span to our existing Bay Bridge.” Although the federally required analysis had to examine multiple options, Hogan tweeted that the data already was “indisputable” that it would relieve the most congestion with the fewest environmental effects.
State officials said expanding the bridge at the current site also made sense because it would make it easier to divert traffic from one span to another during accidents or maintenance work.
A new bridge would cost between $5.4 billion and $8.9 billion in 2020 dollars, depending on whether Route 50 could be widened or new approach lanes needed to be built, the study said. The price could soar to $13.1 billion if the state built a tunnel in addition to a bridge.
Queen Anne’s County Commissioner James J. Moran (R-At Large) said a bigger bridge is badly needed to alleviate often hours-long Route 50 backups that spill onto local roads, especially with beachgoers returning home on Sunday evenings.
“For the last 75 years, pretty much everything has been built to lead to the Bay Bridge,” Moran said. “The infrastructure is there, and the traffic is there . . . We can’t push the bridge traffic somewhere else and have the traffic disappear.”
However, Anne Arundel Executive Steuart Pittman (D) called the idea of building another bridge “outdated” and unnecessary. He said many Eastern Shore residents don’t want the kind of “suburban sprawl development” that the study assumes will increase bridge traffic.
“If we pursue smart growth rather than suburban sprawl on Eastern Shore farmland,” Pittman said, “then we won’t have the development and increased traffic they’re projecting.”
Anne Arundel County Council member Amanda Fiedler (R-District 5), who represents the area near the existing bridge, said building a third span would increase traffic jams that ensnare local residents when bridge-bound traffic overflows onto local roads.
“The bottleneck will simply shift along the same corridor,” Fiedler said.
The draft results of the study recommended building within a two-mile-wide corridor at the site of the existing bridge. The final analysis is expected to be completed in late 2021 or early 2022. A Tier 2 study, which would study specific alignments within the corridor in more detail, has no funding, the authority said.
The state also has no construction schedule and has not identified a way to pay for it, officials said.
The two rejected corridors would have been farther to the north and south. The state previously had rejected 11 other corridors that had spanned nearly 100 miles of the Chesapeake Bay.
The amount that a third span at the current site would reduce traffic congestion was the “key distinguishing factor” in its selection, the study said.
It also would potentially have the least overall environmental impact by crossing the bay at its narrowest point and would work best with local land-use planning, the study found.
Erik Fisher, Maryland assistant director for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, said the chosen alternative might avoid “the very worst environmental damage.” Even so, he questioned the need for a bigger bridge if people continue working from home more often and travel less after the pandemic.
“We encourage the state to account for these changes and take a more serious look at adding transit on the bridge,” Fisher said.
The bridge typically carries about 118,600 vehicles daily on summer weekends and about 68,600 on non-summer weekdays.
The state will finalize its selection after considering public comments on the draft study. Public hearings are scheduled for April.