Maps leaked from the Maryland Transportation Authority showing potential sites for a new toll bridge across the Chesapeake Bay have riled residents worried a crossing could potentially bring tens of thousands of additional vehicles through their communities.
The maps are marked with 14 orange lines showing potential sites for the crossing. Grammer said he’s heard from motorists who want an alternative to the Chesapeake Bay Bridge’s maddening backups, particularly on summer weekends when Eastern Shore beachgoers and commuters are stuck in traffic that can crawl for miles to reach the toll plazas.
“But overwhelmingly,” Grammer said, “the feedback I’m getting is, ‘No way in hell is that going through my community.’”
The reaction has been similar on both sides of the bay since the Chestertown Spy, an online newspaper, published the maps as part of a Jan. 29 column. Deciding whether to build another crossing won’t spark half the political firestorm as determining where.
The maps, which are marked “draft,” are part of a $5 million state study underway since 2016 to determine where an additional bridge could be built, how potential locations would affect the environment and local communities, and how the state would pay for it.
In announcing the study, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) said analyses have shown that without another crossing, westbound summer bridge traffic on Sunday evenings could back up 14 miles by 2040.
Such planning studies, which are required by federal law, typically start with a broad mix of options, including some that go nowhere. Planners usually avoid a widespread public backlash by keeping maps with lines under wraps until they narrow down the options to the few considered most feasible.
Maryland Transportation Authority officials declined to comment on the maps or to say which of the 14 potential routes remain under consideration. State officials are scheduled to recommend an alignment this fall, according to the study’s website.
“We are aware of some maps being circulated on social media,” spokesman John Sales wrote in an email. “The [Transportation Authority] is not the source of the information. The pre-decisional maps that are part of the Bay Bridge [study] . . . are just that, pre-decisional.”
He said the public will learn about the alternatives during open houses to be scheduled this spring.
State officials have given no timeline for when a crossing would be built or how the state would pay for it. The authority’s executive director, Kevin Reigrut, told the Baltimore Sun last year that a new bridge could cost up to $10 billion.
Together, the 14 potential alignments would affect hundreds of thousands of residents in 11 counties spanning about 115 miles, from St. Mary’s and Somerset counties in the south to Harford and Cecil counties north of Baltimore.
The chief concerns: Bridge traffic would overwhelm congested local roads on both ends, attract auto-dependent sprawl development, harm the ecologically sensitive shoreline, and spoil the rural feel of whichever Eastern Shore community it touches.
Even public officials who agree the region needs another bay crossing say they don’t want it near their constituents.
Anne Arundel County Council member Amanda Fiedler (R) said her district, where the west end of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge is located, can’t handle another span. Route 50 and its access roads to and from the bridge become so jammed on weekends, she said, that a five-minute errand takes more than a half-hour. Meanwhile, she said, motorists cut through neighborhoods to get around the backups.
“We need to solve this [bay crossing] problem for the entire state,” Fiedler said, “but we need to be mindful of what impact the current Bay Bridge has on Anne Arundel residents.”
Some say any new crossing makes the most sense south of the existing bridge to handle traffic from the District and Northern Virginia. Others say a third span near the existing double span would be a convenient alternative if one of the other two had to be closed for a crash or maintenance. Those eyeing a connection north of Baltimore say it would provide the most direct link between the Eastern Shore and Interstate 95, particularly for trucks.
Lawrence A. Richardson Jr., vice president for government affairs at the Maryland Chamber of Commerce, said the state needs to find a cost-effective way to make cross-bay travel safer and more reliable. Everything from grocery store items to construction materials gets to the Eastern Shore via truck, he said.
“Everyone and their brother know the backups at the Bay Bridge, especially in the summertime,” Richardson said. “But the big question in the room becomes where. . . . It could be a tough decision.”
The Calvert County Board of Commissioners wrote a letter to the authority last week to express “deep concerns” about the options involving Calvert. The board said it’s “inconceivable” to even consider the area because bridge traffic would swamp Route 4, the main artery into and out of the peninsula, and “destroy” the quality of life in rural areas.
“People are definitely up in arms,” said Greg Bowen, executive director of the American Chestnut Land Trust, which preserves open land in Calvert.
The Talbot County Council has asked the authority to remove the county from all crossing options. Two-lane Route 33 can’t handle more traffic, especially through the town of St. Michael’s, said Corey Pack (R), president of the Talbot council.
“Talbot County people are saying they definitely don’t want to be anywhere near a bridge landing,” Pack said. “That’s 99 percent of the people I’m hearing from.”
Some say state officials shouldn’t even consider building another bridge until they’ve explored other options with fewer impacts, such as a ferry service or variable tolls on the existing bridge priced to encourage motorists to travel during off-peak hours.
Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman (D) said only a non-road solution, such as a light-rail line over the bay, would prevent traffic from getting worse.
“We’re trying to protect the natural beauty of our county and the bay,” Pittman said. “Some of these spans would go through very sensitive areas. They would destroy our communities and destroy our environment. . . . I know the communities would fight it, and I’d be alongside them.”
Local governments might end up having the last say. Under Maryland law, the state cannot build a toll bridge or road in Eastern Shore counties unless the majority of those county governments agree to it. Legislation pending in the Maryland General Assembly would grant Anne Arundel and other counties similar veto power.