CHESTERTOWN — The Kent County Commissioners unanimously approved a resolution supporting a replacement bridge at the current crossing of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge at their meeting Tuesday, Oct. 26.
This resolution is in support of those passed by the Queen Anne’s County Commissioners late last month and the Anne Arundel County Council earlier this month.
The replacement bridge would consolidate the current five-lane Bay Bridge — a three-lane westbound span and a two-lane eastbound span — into one, eight-lane span with a higher traffic capacity.
At an Oct. 19 meeting, Kent County Commissioner Ron Fithian suggested supporting the other counties’ resolutions.
“They’ve reached out to the rest of us hoping we would sign on to that recommendation as well,” Fithian said. “We certainly saw a lot of our people in Kent County spoke out about the Bay Bridge issue with signs in the yard and things like that.”
Staff were then directed to draw up the resolution, modeled after the ones written in Queen Anne’s and Anne Arundel. Kent’s commissioners approved the resolution Oct. 26 with no discussion.
The resolution states, “the best solution to maintain forward progress, support the investments already made along the US Route 50/301 corridor, specifically from I-97 to MD 404, and address the existing and future traffic capacity shortfalls is to replace the current two spans of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge with a single replacement bridge, constructed at the same location, that includes a minimum of eight travel lanes to provide adequate capacity and dependable and reliable travel times.”
The original two-lane span of the Bay Bridge was opened in 1952. The second three-lane span was added in 1973.
Each span was designed to last 50 years. The original has operated for nearly 70 years and the additional will reach that 50-year mark next year.
“Maintenance needs and functional traffic management have become more challenging and expensive as the bridges age beyond the original design intent, and future maintenance project will have a significant, detrimental impact on available bridge capacity and operations,” the resolution states.
Not only are operating costs a concern, but traffic backs up on both sides of the bridge and along parallel community roads.
“The five lanes of the Bay Bridge that currently cross the Chesapeake Bay have not been adequate to effectively manage peak period traffic for many years,” the resolution states.
According to the resolution, the Maryland Department of Transportation’s 2020 forecasts of summertime traffic volume across the bridge were realized, with 100,000 vehicles crossing daily.
By 2030, trends are estimated to result in over 110,000 vehicles crossing per day. If the “capacity shortfall” at the bridge is not addressed, that crossing volume is projected to result in seven-mile backups and seven hours of traffic delay.
The commissioners request the next steps of the long-running federally mandated Chesapeake Bay Crossing Study move forward from Tier 1 to Tier 2.
Where Tier 1 developed and evaluated all possible options for the bridge’s redesign — a process that looked at 14 different locations — Tier 2 will thoroughly asses the chosen location, considering environmental impacts before possibly advancing a new replacement bridge.
A copy of the Kent County resolution will be sent to the County Council of Anne Arundel and the County Commissioners of Queen Anne’s County “as evidence of our unified support,” the resolution states.
Additional reporting by Luke Parker and Hannah Combs.