Maryland transportation officials are still studying how to best reduce traffic backups at the Chesapeake Bay Bridge. But Gov. Larry Hogan (R) said Wednesday that building a third span at the existing bridge is the only option he would approve.
Hogan, citing information from the state study, said not building a third span would result in 14-mile delays at the bridge by 2040. Building a third span, he tweeted, is “the only serious way forward” to relieve cross-bay traffic congestion.
There is only one option I will ever accept: adding a third span to our existing Bay Bridge. While the federal process requires multiple proposals, the data is indisputable— this option would maximize congestion relief & minimize environmental impact.https://t.co/yMhGIIMuoQ— Governor Larry Hogan (@GovLarryHogan) August 28, 2019
Marylanders all across the state depend on being able to cross the Chesapeake Bay, and this is the only serious way forward.— Governor Larry Hogan (@GovLarryHogan) August 28, 2019
Hogan’s comments came a day after the Maryland Transportation Authority said its $5 million study had so far narrowed the options for reducing traffic congestion to three possibilities: building an additional bridge north of the existing one, within two miles of it, or to the south. State officials said the study found a span within the same two-mile “corridor” as the existing bridge would reduce traffic the most, but they said they would continue to analyze the more northern and southern corridors, as well as a “no-build” alternative required by federal law. Authority officials said they rejected the idea of adding ferry, bus or rail service because rail would be prohibitively expensive and none would do enough to reduce traffic.
But Hogan announcing that he’s already made up his mind has opened him up to criticism that the state’s study will become a way to support the governor’s foregone conclusion.
The federally required studies, which must include public input, typically weigh a number of options and predict each one’s impacts on the environment, local communities and historical sites. They’re considered the way for government agencies to publicly and thoroughly vet ideas for costly infrastructure investments that can have significant impacts on waterways, wildlife and communities.
Gary V. Hodge, a transit advocate and former Democratic commissioner in Charles County, said he’s concerned the “Titanic cost” of building a third span would siphon money from expanding transit and other ways to better move people rather than vehicles.
The federally required review process “requires objective analysis of alternatives,” Hodge said. “When you preorder the conclusion, you’re basically warping the process.”
Other critics, including Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman (D), have said building an additional bridge would disrupt communities on both sides of the bay, increase traffic on local roads, promote car-centric development, destroy shoreline parkland, and give short shrift to transit.
Hogan spokesman Michael Ricci said the Maryland Transportation Authority will complete the federal environmental review of four options — the three possible corridors for a new bridge, as well as the required no-build option. He said the governor simply wanted to be “clear” and “unequivocal” that he favors building a third span because the study has already found it would best reduce traffic.
“We respect the process and have to allow for public comment and public meetings to educate the public on this project,” Ricci said.
Public comment, he said, “could possibly lead to improvements” in the governor’s preferred third span.
Ricci said the state won’t know the cost of building a third span — or how the state would pay for it — until the second part of the study specifies an alignment and the type and length of a new structure.
The question of where — and whether — to build an additional bridge ultimately might not be up to Hogan, depending on how long the rest of the study takes and how easily the state can find the money to build it. Hogan, who is term-limited, will be out of office after the 2022 election.