Conservation group seeks state documents on alternative Bay Bridge solutions

The Chesapeake Bay Bridge crosses from Annapolis to Stevensville on the Eastern Shore.

ANNAPOLIS — Concerned about the financial and environmental repercussions of a new Bay Bridge, a local conservation group is planning to review the state’s documents evaluating alternative traffic control methods between Annapolis and Kent Island.

Filing a Maryland Public Information Act request earlier this month, the Queen Anne’s Conservation Association will soon inspect how the Maryland Transportation Authority considered different no-build solutions as options in its recently released Chesapeake Bay Crossing Study.

Specifically, the QACA will access MDTA documents dating as far back as 2016 involving the following congestion management strategies:

Peak period variable toll pricing

Truck/bus restrictions in the contraflow lane

Rapid reversible lane deployment

Active management of contraflow lane based on demand or need

High-occupancy vehicle and/or high-occupancy toll lane restrictions in one lane in the peak traffic direction

Incident management best practices, including improvements to transportation management centers, improved traveler information systems, and response systems like towing procedures

Some of these strategies were identified within the crossing study as Modal and Operational Alternatives (MOAs), along with a ferry service, a bus transit system, and a rail transit system. According to the MDTA document, the state determined the MOAs were incapable of providing “adequate capacity to relieve congestion” and “dependable and reliable travel times” by themselves, though it suggests reviewing them again in future studies “in combination with other” strategies.

In a release, QACA officials said they “had serious questions as to why methods used elsewhere in the country...are not part of MDTA’s tool-kit for the Bay Bridge spans.”

“It may well be that advanced traffic management is off the table at MDTA,” said QACA Executive Director Jay Falstad. “But it is critical for the public and the next governor to understand the full range of options for dealing with Bay Bridge back-ups.”

Submitted May 10, the public information request came nearly three weeks after the first tier of the Chesapeake Bay Crossing Study was published online. Approved by the MDTA and the Federal Highway Administration, Tier 1 identified the 2-mile area surrounding the current Bay Bridge as the “preferred” corridor for construction, if a new crossing project is approved.

A second tier analyzing the location and proposing specific design strategies is still required under the National Environmental Policy Act. While Gov. Larry Hogan (R) has previously said that he would only support a third span option at the Bay Bridge, several jurisdictions have followed a push by Queen Anne’s County to endorse a single, eight-lane bridge as a traffic mitigation strategy.

Funding for Tier 2, which would weigh the qualifications of an eight-lane bridge versus a new span, has not yet been secured.

While the current corridor was selected for its engineering, cost and environmental benefits — many of which result from it requiring the least amount of water to cross — the QACA has pushed back against construction on the Bay, advocating for the strategies individually dismissed in Tier 1.

“A new eight-lane bridge across the Bay would be costly, disruptive, and environmentally damaging in ways that MDTA has yet to acknowledge,” Falstad said.

A March study sponsored by QACA suggested a new crossing would only “temporarily” relieve traffic before attracting more drivers — specifically, the study estimated that within five years of completion, traffic would increase by at least 30%, a similar pattern to when the second Bay Bridge span was opened in 1973.

Researchers from AKRF, an environmental planning and engineering firm based in Hanover, said additional construction may be needed. In total, the AKRF study said over $1.35 billion in widening projects on nearly 70 miles of highway “may be warranted by the additional span crossing the Chesapeake Bay.”

Those projects would require an estimated 230 acres of land, take over 20 years of construction to complete, and “could result in significant disruptions to municipalities” and land area along U.S. Route 50, the report said.

“The AKRF studies are lifting the curtain on what MDTA is keeping to itself, but much still needs to come to light,” Falstad said. “Our MPIA request today is one more step toward that goal.”

In a May 16 email, MDTA PIA representative Christopher Imms said the state “is currently working with Queen Anne’s Conservation Association on its PIA request.”

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