What happens next for bay crossing?
What happens when?
What happens when the MdTA determines that it’s not worth the political capital to push for another crossing of the Chesapeake Bay? Instead, it commits to replacing the existing and aging twin spans with new bridge(s) capable of carrying 5 lanes of traffic in each direction. Halleluiah, we’ve been saved; no more congestion and traffic back-up to and beyond Route I-97 on Route 50/301 in the summer. Cleaner air and safer travel, what could be better? Well not so fast!
The truth is not quite so rosy! In fact, this “bridge replacement solution” only addresses the congestion problem at the Bay Bridge and its immediate approaches. This “solution,” most unfortunately, will condemn the entire 50/301 Corridor to inevitable and continuing construction, congestion, air pollution, reduced mobility, and economic mediocracy for many generations if not in perpetuity. Anne Arundel County, the Capital City of Annapolis, and Queen Anne’s County will suffer inordinately compared to all other locations along the Corridor. Note that the operative word is “Corridor” not “Bridge” in this discussion.
How did we get to this point? It might first be more useful to understand how we did not get to this point! We did not arrive at this crossroads situation as the result of a top-down comprehensive planning process that considered the long-term mobility needs of the citizens of Maryland and the metropolitan regions that utilize the twin spans crossing the Chesapeake Bay, especially the needs of the most impacted Annapolis metropolitan region. We stand at this pivotal crossroads because the existing spans are approaching the end of their useful lives and must be replaced. And, since they can not handle the current traffic volumes, should we build more travel lanes into a new bridge(s). This short-sighted, bottoms-up perspective sees only a bridge when a Corridor is at risk of failure. Even worse, the bottom up approach does not consider the opportunities lost by not developing another Corridor and crossing of the Bay.
The consequences of a short term, politically expedient solution will have a disastrous long-term impact on the 50/301 Corridor. A commitment to ever expanding this Corridor and its single crossing of the Chesapeake that serves urban regions of Baltimore, Washington DC, and Richmond VA precludes the possibility of another Corridor crossing of the Bay into the far distant future!
David W. Humphreys, P.E.