Tier One Bridge Crossing Study

A Maryland Transportation Authority official, left, shows the three preliminary Corridor Alternatives Retained for Analysis, Corridors 6, 7, and 8, through Rock Hall, Kent Island and Easton.

STEVENSVILLE — Buying a boat may be the best way to deal with increased congestion at the Bay Bridge, according to Cindy Thierry of Stevensville. Thierry said it seemed little thought had been put forth into the repairs currently underway, and with the traffic situation already this bad, she put a deposit on a boat.

In accordance with NEPA, Corridors 6, (MD 100 to US 301 between Pasadena (Anne Arundel County), Rock Hall (Kent County) and Centreville (Queen Anne’s County), 7 and 8 will be carried forward as the preliminary Corridor Alternatives Retained for Analysis because they are the only corridors to sufficiently meet the purpose and need, as outlined by the study. The No-Build Alternative will also be carried forward.

One woman from the Kent Island area said in her opinion it was sounding like the current crossing is really the only one being looked at. Her concern was that there is not enough infrastructure in place to support a third bridge at the current crossing, and no room to improve or add additional infrastructure. Another noted, that when crossing the bridge, it is not uncommon to see a number of plates from Virginia — a bridge connecting the Virginia area may be more helpful.

Thierry said the online cameras (Bay Bridge traffic camseras) have proved helpful when trying to avoid peak travel times, but her concern is that a higher volume of traffic will make a bad situation worse. With traffic backing up as it is now, Thierry said she is worried for those pregnant, who may be trying to get to Anne Arundel Medical Center to deliver, and for parents who commute to the western shore needing to get home to children. She also questioned how the increased congestion would affect commerce.

Residents of Kent County seem to be the most vehement and vocal in their opposition of a crossing in their county, but resoundingly the opinion of those from Queen Anne’s was that a third bridge would do nothing to lessen the impact of traffic through the area.

Some suggestions offered as a no-build alternative: more innovative toll collection, variable toll rates, and a method to discourage travel at high peak times.

Tier One of the Bay Crossing Study scheduled for September and October of this year was to present a range of alternatives and preliminary corridor alternatives retained for analysis. During the course of the study open houses were held on both sides of the Chesapeake Bay to give the public an opportunity to weigh in with their comments and questions. One such session was held Oct. 9 at Kent Island High School.

According to study officials, the Chesapeake Bay Crossing Study is a National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) study that will result in the identification of a preferred corridor alternative to address congestion at the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and evaluation of its financial feasibility. The Bay Crossing Study will consider potential solutions to address existing and future traffic congestion at the Bay Bridge, and encompassed a broad geographic area — nearly 100 miles of the Chesapeake Bay.

One of the results of the study will be an environmental impact statement. Funded by toll dollars, the Bay Crossing Study Tier 1 began in 2016 and is expected to be complete in 2021. The bridge falls under the jurisdiction of the Maryland Transportation Authority, which owns, finances, operates and maintains the bridge and is conducting the $5 million study.

Open house attendees were encouraged to learn about the environmental review process for the study, the overall study schedule, and the alternatives development, screening process and results. By spring of 2020 a draft of the impact statement and recommended preferred corridor should be published. Fall 2020 will see a public hearing on the study, followed by the positive identification of preferred corridor. Tier 2, the next phase in moving toward a new bridge, has not yet been funded.

Comments have focused primarily on the specific location of the next crossing, followed by environmental concerns, and traffic and infrastructure, other alternatives (such as ferry, rail, tunnel), and general opposition for the project all ranking third in the list of concerns.

So far the study has determined that Corridor 7 (the existing bridge corridor) and Corridor Alternative 8 (US 50/301 between Crofton and Easton) provide the only relief for both summer weekend and non-summer weekday traffic.

Other alternatives, such as ferry or rail, likely will not provide the volume of relief necessary and will be very costly in comparison to a traditional bridge crossing. Lack of public transportation is also a deterrent to rail or ferry alternatives where a traveler will need transportation beyond point A to point B, concludes the study. Corridor 7, the current, is also considered to be the least costly based on engineering factors over land and water.

There were about 250 people in attendance at the Kent County open house, and a little less in Talbot, said State Highway Administration Community Liaison Robert Rager. He expected 300 or so to make their way through the open house in Stevensville.

Kelly Melhem, with the MdTA, said they are hoping that the open houses will provide an opportunity for community members to ask questions about the study, in addition to offering their suggestions. Comment boxes were available several places around the room.

All of the material presented during the open house is available online at baycrossingstudy.com Comments may be submitted there as well.

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