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A new bridge close to Chesapeake Bay Bridge would provide the most traffic relief, study says
August 27, 2019 at 4:15 p.m. EDT
Maryland transportation officials have determined that building another bridge near the Chesapeake Bay Bridge would relieve traffic backups better than an additional crossing farther to the north or south, according to state findings released Tuesday.
Three corridors that are each two miles wide — one adjacent to the bridge, one just north of it and another just south — will be studied in more detail before any alignment is chosen, according to the Maryland Transportation Authority. That narrows the possible corridors from 14 initially under consideration.
However, the study has already found that building an additional bridge in the same corridor as the existing one would best reduce cross-bay traffic backups, both on summer weekends and non-summer weekdays, state officials said. The Bay Bridge connects Routes 50/301 in Anne Arundel County on the west with Queen Anne’s County on the Eastern Shore.
The study found that without an additional crossing, eastbound traffic congestion at the Bay Bridge on summer weekends in 2040 would span 12 hours, two hours more than in 2017. If another bridge is built in the same corridor, the Bay Bridge would have no backups in either direction — on summer weekends or non-summer weekdays — the study found.
Without an additional crossing, the Bay Bridge would carry almost 17,000 more vehicles daily on summer weekends by 2040. With another bridge near it, daily weekend traffic on the Bay Bridge would drop by about 40,000 vehicles in 2040, according to the study.
“When you look at numbers like that, that’s a significant difference,” Maryland Transportation Authority Executive Director Jim Ports said.
While motorists encounter withering backups at the bridge, especially on weekends, the search for where to build an additional crossing has ignited concerns in communities along both sides of the bay. Residents say another crossing would bring more congestion to roads that are already clogged, particularly with summer beach traffic. The bridge also is a key commuter route between the Eastern Shore and job centers in the Baltimore-Washington region.
Others worry that a new bridge would encourage auto-dependent sprawl, harm the ecologically sensitive shoreline and spoil the rural feel of whichever Eastern Shore communities it touches.
One of the three corridors under consideration would be just north of the Bay Bridge, between Pasadena in Anne Arundel, Rock Hall in Kent County and Centreville in Queen Anne’s. The second would be near the current bridge. The third would be to the south, between Crofton in Anne Arundel and Easton in Talbot County.
Officials in Easton and St. Michael’s, two idyllic Eastern Shore towns that attract weekend shoppers and tourists, say their communities can’t absorb the additional traffic a bridge would bring.
“We are inundated with traffic now just about every day of the week, all through the year,” Easton Mayor Robert C. Willey said. “Right now, it seems to run more traffic through the central Eastern Shore would just be a bottleneck that we’d have trouble dealing with.”
St. Michael’s Town Manager Jean Weisman said she’s still trying to determine how close one of the options would come to the town.
“There’s no way they could build [connecting roads] through the town,” Weisman said. “There’s just no room.”
Regardless of which alignment the state chooses, it will need local support. Under Maryland law, the state is not allowed to build a toll bridge or road in Eastern Shore counties unless the majority of those county governments agree to it.
The state also is considering a no-build option, which is required as part of the federal evaluation process. The possibilities of a cross-bay ferry, rail or bus service have been ruled out, state officials said, because they wouldn’t do enough to reduce traffic.
The authority, which owns and operates the Bay Bridge, has been conducting the $5 million study since 2016 to determine how potential bridge alignments would affect the environment, historic sites and communities.
In addition to relieving backups, state officials say, an additional crossing would make the Bay Bridge safer and more reliable and would provide another way to cross when a crash or maintenance closes part of the original spans.
State officials haven’t said when a crossing would be built, how much it would cost or how the state would pay for it. However, the study notes that an alignment next to the current bridge would be the shortest, at 22 miles, which probably would make it the least expensive of those under consideration.