State Sen. Richard F. Colburn, a veteran Middle Shore Republican, has been the Dover Bridge's most persistent advocate in elected office. Over the decades, he said, traffic has increased to 14,000 crossings a day. By 2030, he said, traffic volume could reach 21,000 daily.

Colburn and others pointed to Jackson as the agitator who kept the project on the agenda over the years. The white-bearded activist, who changed truck tires for a living before retiring, has been taking his case for a new bridge to the highest levels of Maryland government since the late 1990s.

In 1997, he hauled a scroll to Annapolis and rolled out 275 feet of pro-construction letters on the floor of the State House. His effort won a commitment from Gov. Parris N. Glendening to come to the Shore and see the bridge that summer.

Jackson recalled the visit included a boat trip during which the governor inspected the underside. "There was a hole in the bottom of the bridge, a piece of concrete as big as the back of a pickup truck," Jackson said. He said he and Glendening decided to get out of there before something else fell.

After that visit, Glendening jump-started planning and engineering for a replacement bridge, but it wasn't until 2004 that Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. announced he had allocated $42 million to replace it by 2011.

Construction had yet to begin when the recession hit in 2008 and the O'Malley administration deferred more than $2 billion in transportation projects. The Dover Bridge was put on hold until money from the gas tax increase became available this year.

The decision to build the bridge will not necessarily win the Democratic governor converts on the heavily Republican Eastern Shore. Some local officials still resent the state's diversion of transportation money, including local highway funds, to fill a budget gap at the depths of the economic crisis.

"Are the additional taxes worth the Dover Bridge? I would argue we'd like to have the taxes we've lost from the last five years," said Dirck Bartlett, the Republican president of the Talbot County commissioners.

Foxwell said the long wait gave Shore residents the impression they had been overlooked by state government.

"This issue has become a proxy for those who believe — correctly or incorrectly — that the Eastern Shore doesn't get its fair share," he said.

While O'Malley deserves credit for restarting the project, Jackson's role was pivotal, Foxwell said.

"I would hope that we someday name this bridge for George Jackson because he kept this issue alive and on the front burner when everyone else had thrown up their hands and walked away in frustration," he said.

Baltimore Sun reporter Erin Cox contributed to this article.