STEVENSVILLE — Kent Island Heritage Society President Jack Broderick poetically described life on Kent Island prior, during and after the William Preston Memorial Lane Jr. Bridge was constructed to a large crowd gathered at the Historic Christ Church in downtown Stevensville on Wednesday, March 28.
The special Heritage Society meeting reviewed what drove life on the Island when it was only accessible by ferry, how the creation of the Bay Bridge upended decades of tradition and took the tiny plot of land to new heights, and what will be needed to safely and effectively pass the increasing volume of vehicles through Queen Anne’s County.
Broderick, also a member of the Bay Bridge Reconstruction Advisory Group, established around 2005, introduced state employees attending the informational session at the beginning of the meeting.
Back before the bridge, which drastically changed life on Kent Island when the first crossing was created in 1952, Broderick said the only way to and from the Island was by passenger ferry at Love Point and Matapeake. When the Matapeake ferry officially opened, Broderick said more than 3,000 residents marched down Route 8 and celebrated in the parade.
“When the ferry came, people couldn’t imagine a better life,” Broderick said.
Like the representation of the old Maryland flag, Broderick said, Kent Island was filled with farmers and watermen.
But hundreds of years before the ferry was established, opening Kent Island up to the world, the Island itself was established by the British.
Wars came and passed, some with participation from Queen Anne’s County residents. Broderick said the British didn’t come to the Island during the Revolutionary War, but in the War of 1812, wrecked the area in the two weeks they were here. During the Civil War, Broderick said residents fought on both sides.
The Island, he said, eventually became a heavy slave-owning area until its abolition, with many people staying in the area and contributing further too the region’s history after being freed.
Though the Island evolved and changed as new Chesapeake Bay crossing methods were created, nothing would have affected the area more than Sen. James Kirwan failing in the 1920s to convince the federal government not to turn Kent Island into a military proving ground.
Kirwan, a legendary figure in county history, took hundreds of citizens to Washington, D.C., to fight for the Island, eventually winning. The military proving ground was created in Aberdeen, keeping the aesthetics and rural life of the Island
Despite the Island being spared from change through Kirwan’s efforts, nothing could stop Maryland Gov. William Lane Jr. from creating the first Bay crossing. Broderick said efforts to create the first bridge were made during World War I, which was followed by the Great Depression. After recovery from the Depression, World War II came about and pushed back its creation.
By 1949, construction began after Lane pushed the project through quickly after the war, Broderick said.
Taking the ferry from the western shore to the Eastern Shore, Broderick shared early memories he had as a kid seeing the bridge’s creation. Broderick remembered his dad telling him how the bridge would be obsolete the day after building it as it only had two lanes.
On July 30, 1952, Kent Island changed forever.
The day the bridge opened, elected officials, dignitaries and citizens from all shores crossed the bridge for the first time. Linda Collier, a member of the Heritage Society, recalled crossing the bridge three times with her family, each time getting a small orchid.
The Island exploded with development, Broderick said, as motels and restaurants opened. The “wheels of capitalism were moving,” he said. One developer at the time, Dave Nichols, Broderick said, bought about 5,000 lots from farmers on the Island just before the bridge opened. Nichols subdivided the lots and since there were no zoning regulations and no Comprehensive Plan, development boomed.
Eventually, Broderick said, the lots had to be sold after Nichols got in a jam.
The Island’s population began to grow annually, and it was realized the first Bay Bridge did not have enough capacity. So, in June 1973, the second span was constructed, this time with three lanes as opposed to the two on the original crossing. As had happened before, development on Kent Island picked up as more volume came to and through the area, Broderick said.
Broderick explained how the Bay Bridge Reconstruction Advisory Group makes recommendations to the state about bridge maintenance times traffic-calming ideas as both bridges have reached their capacities and a future third crossing is needed.
With increased traffic daily, especially causing traffic log-jams during summer months when travelers attempt to “Reach the Beach,” the state has began the process of looking at areas suitable to locate the third Bay Bridge.
Richard Jaramillo, Bay Bridge administrator, said he faces daily challenges operating the two structures: traffic, lane closures, construction and maintenance and weather. He said it is a struggle to manage all of the vehicles with the “infrastructure we have now.”
He said his team works daily to make sure the bridge is operated safely and in the most effective way possible. Understanding the frustrations of motorists sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic at and around bridge, Jaramillo said he would rather people be angry than injured or dead.
Looking toward the future, the state and federal government have recognized a need for a capacity improvement and have started the National Environmental Policy Act Tier One study. That study, which will be completed in 2020, will survey potential sites for a third Bay crossing throughout the entire 100-mile stretch of the Chesapeake Bay. Throughout the entire stretch, two-mile sections will be determined thought to be fitting through an Environmental Impact Statement.
Once Tier One of the NEPA study is completed and has determined viable locations, funding for Tier 2 of the NEPA study needs to be allocated. The second study will look in great detail at the locations determined in Tier One. Environmental studies and actual “boots on the ground” analysis will be completed.
Officials said the construction of the third bridge could cost between $4 billion and $6 billion. The first bridge cost about $45 million, and the second crossing cost about $148 million.
A new bridge isn’t expected to be built in the next 10 years, but citizens on the Island have continued to see the effects of the Bay Bridge on their daily life, just as citizens have each of the previous times a new crossing was created.
Follow Mike Davis on Twitter: @mike_kibaytimes.