TANYARD — It’s an announcement some people have been waiting to hear for nearly 30 years — construction funds for a new Dover Bridge have been approved.
Eastern Shore projects totaling about $160 million are being announced Friday, Aug. 16, including a new Dover Bridge, the U.S. Route 301 and state Route 304 interchange and another phase to widen the lanes of state Route 404.
According to the Maryland Department of Transportation, a new Dover Bridge will cost about $50 million.
The old, existing bridge was built in 1932 and is a three span, steel Warren truss bridge with a swing span and concrete deck that carries two 12-foot lanes with no shoulders, making it “functionally obsolete.”
When the swing-span bridge opens to river traffic, vehicle traffic is halted on both sides, and it can get stuck open due to the age of the opening mechanisms.
The interruption of vehicle traffic is a concern among local residents, especially since it prevents access for emergency vehicles that drive from Caroline County to Memorial Hospital at Easton in Talbot County.
The new bridge will be a high-level, fixed-span bridge built just south of the existing bridge. It will be 2,020 feet long with two 12-foot lanes, 8-foot shoulders and 48-foot clearance above the average high water.
Since the existing bridge is one of three remaining single swing-span bridges in Maryland, it is eligible for the National Register of Historic Places and will remain at its current location in an open position to allow marine traffic to pass and people to fish from either side of it.
Construction is anticipated to start in summer 2014 and is estimated to take about three years.
Erin Henson, the director of public affairs for the Maryland Department of Transportation, said the new projects all across the state wouldn’t be possible without the Transportation Infrastructure Investment Act of 2013, which passed in the general assembly during the 2013 session and allows Maryland to activate long-term strategies to invest in Maryland’s transportation systems, and increases the gas tax in the state to pay for those projects.
“We were getting to the point of just the preservation (of roadways) to be a challenge,” Henson said.
Henson said that because of the new transportation act, Maryland will get an additional $4.4 billion in new transportation funds, and so far there has been about $2 billion in construction projects announced.
All representatives on the Eastern Shore, except Del. Mike Smigiel, who didn’t vote, voted no on the transportation bill.
Many of those representatives, particularly Republicans representing Upper and Mid-Shore counties, criticized the bill for raising the gas tax statewide while there’s unbalanced investment in transportation projects on the Eastern Shore compared to the western shore.
But Sen. Richard Colburn said Gov. Martin O’Malley is showing that the new transportation act isn’t just an investment on the western shore, but the Eastern Shore, too, and he’s “ecstatic” about the two projects in his district — the Dover Bridge and Route 404.
“He’s put our safety and transportation needs ahead of politics and is doing the right thing,” Colburn said.
Colburn agreed with Henson that the projects on the Eastern Shore couldn’t have continued without the passage of the new transportation bill, but he said he still has “valid” concerns about mass transit funding on the western shore, including “the fact that we don’t have a designated funding source for mass transit.”
Out of the nearly $2 billion worth of projects, roughly half of it is going to mass transit on the western shore and the other half is going to projects like highways and bridges across the state, Henson said, with a goal to have a balance between transit and highway spending.
“What transit is doing; when we invest in that, it’s taking people off the highways, so it’s helping us with congestion a great deal,” Henson said.
Also, Henson said projects on the western shore just cost more overall, “if you’re really going to compare apples to apples.”
So far for highway funding, she said about $915 million is going to highway construction and upgrades, and of that $915 million, about half of it is taken up by three interchanges — one in Montgomery County and two in Prince George’s County.
For example, Henson said at the next phase of the multi-phased Route 404 project, which in this phase of it is being widened to a four-lane divided highway from west of state Route 309 to east of Tuckahoe Creek and includes a new bridge carrying Route 404 over Tuckahoe Creek for a total of 1.5 miles in both directions, will cost $42 million for construction.
Similarly, a project announced in Howard County to widen U.S. Route 29 for 1.7 miles in one direction northbound is about $49 million in construction costs, and that’s without building a bridge, which is expensive, according to Henson.
Also more expensive on the western shore than on the Eastern Shore is acquiring the right-of-way, or the land the state buys on which to build projects, Henson said.
For instance, Henson said it’s costing $11 million to acquire the right-of-way for the phase three widening of U.S. Route 113, which in this phase is 3.75 miles.
But for the right-of-way for pedestrian, bicycle and safety improvements on U.S. Route 1 for 2 miles through College Park, it’s costing the state $20 million, Henson said.
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