Davis G. Brickley is president of the Dahlgren Railroad Heritage Trail Association Oxon Hill Bicycle & Trail Club.

President Theodore Roosevelt said in 1907, “The one characteristic more essential than any other is foresight.”

Maryland is planning on a multigenerational bridge project to last far into the next century. This is the proposed replacement for the Nice-Middleton two-lane bridge over the Potomac River connecting Charles County with King George County, Va. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) expressed his early support for the construction of a new four-lane bridge that includes a barrier-separated path for hikers and cyclists. The obsolete Governor Harry W. Nice Memorial Bridge, constructed in 1938, was designed at a time when cyclists and hikers were in no planner’s mind. The proposed Nice-Middleton Bridge will be with us for another 100 years, so it is imperative that it be done right.

Unfortunately, the Maryland Transportation Authority has other thoughts about the need for including a cycling-walking lane in the design. That would be a huge mistake.

At an August C&O Canal National Historic Park improvement dedication in Williamsport, Hogan noted that it was a “transformative project that comes along once in a generation.” Those words were well said; but substitute “century” for “generation” to capture the significance of this new bridge across the Potomac River.

The Maryland Transportation Authority’s plan to eliminate a barrier-separated bike and pedestrian component to the planned Nice-Middleton Bridge is a major step backward, and one that will be with us for a century or more.

The Nice-Middleton Bridge is the gateway for the Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail and popular cycling and pedestrian venues in Maryland and Virginia. The Thomas J. Hatem Memorial Bridge over the Susquehanna River suggested by the Maryland Transportation Authority as an example to use is, in fact, just the opposite. It’s an 80-year-old bridge with no shoulders for the safety of cyclists and hikers. It is one of the worst crossings on the routes of both the September 11th National Memorial Trail and the East Coast Greenway.

Bridge crossings are the Achilles’ heel of cyclists and walkers worldwide. Without barrier separation, this bridge will be a safety hazard for all. Its flaw will be a design of regrets.

At a Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments Transportation Planning Board meeting in September, staff of the Maryland Transportation Authority stated that the traffic count on the Nice Bridge was 18,000 vehicles a day. However, the Virginia Department of Transportation estimates that more than 26,000 vehicles crossed the Nice Bridge in 2017 and predicted that numberto grow to more than 50,000 by 2040. What will it be 30 years from now? Fifty? Seventy-five? Is a shared lane used by competing cars, trucks, hikers and cyclists really a safe and viable solution, or is it asking for disaster?

The growth and population expansion of metropolitan Washington over the coming decades are a reality. The need for significant transportation alternatives along the East Coast is also a reality. Who knew 50 years ago that there would be a National Harbor in Maryland? The future of greater Washington requires imagination. If the planned Nice-Middleton Bridge is not properly designed now, there is no do-over.

Hogan and his administration must know that this new bridge over the Potomac River will be used for a century or more. It will become a major Potomac River crossing for the East Coast. It’s Hogan’s legacy. The “foresight” of our public officials urged by Teddy Roosevelt is as important today as it was in 1907. Hogan must hold firm on the need for a barrier-separated path on the Nice-Middleton Bridge, just as was built into the Woodrow Wilson Bridge and what is being considered by Maryland for a new American Legion Bridge crossing.

Read more: