U.S. 301 bridge could be renamed after sitting senator, per bill advancing in Maryland House

A veteran senator from Southern Maryland would have one of Maryland’s largest bridges named after him under legislation that is advancing in the House of Delegates.

The House gave preliminary approval Saturday to a measure that would require the Maryland Transportation Authority to rename the Harry W. Nice Bridge over the Potomac River the Harry W. Nice/Thomas “Mac” Middleton Bridge. Middleton is a Democrat who has represented Charles County in the Senate since 1994 and who is seeking re-election this year.

Middleton, who chairs the powerful Senate Finance Committee, has for about two decades been the legislature’s most vocal champion of replacing the nearly 80-year-old U.S. 301 toll bridge with a wider span that meets modern standards of bridge design. The current 1.7-mile-long structure — the only Potomac crossing south of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge — is a steep, curvy two-lane bridge with no shoulders.

In 2016, after Gov. Larry Hogan cut tolls statewide and left the financing of a Nice Bridge replacement in doubt, Middleton pushed through legislation that would have forced the state to put money aside to move forward with the project. Hogan vetoed the bill but later devised his own financing plan to replace the bridge. The Republican governor pointedly excluded Middleton from the announcement of those plans.

The renaming legislation is a tribute sponsored by Del. Sally Jameson, Middleton’s longtime Democratic colleague from Charles County.

The measure received pushback from Del. Matthew Morgan, who insisted his objections weren’t personal. The St. Mary’s County Republican said he was among the first to object to Middleton’s exclusion from the bridge announcement.

“It’s kind of a troubling precedent we’re setting here,” Morgan said. He pointed out that great athletes typically have to sit out a period of years before being inducted into their sport’s hall of fame.

Del. Kumar Barve, who chairs the House Environment & Transportation Committee, said that thought had occurred to him while he was sitting in the Casper R. Taylor House Office Building, named after a living former speaker. He also said he soon plans to visit the Thomas V. Mike Miller Senate Office Building, named after the very-much-active president of that chamber.

The Montgomery County Democrat said the tribute to Middleton, 72, was justified by his “persistent, unique and tireless” efforts to replace the bridge. Referring to the William Donald Schaefer Building in Baltimore, named after the late governor during his lifetime, Barve urged his colleagues to “do it now.”

An amendment offered by Morgan to delay the honor until a year after Middleton is out of office failed.

If the bill passes the House Monday, as expected, it would go to the Senate.

Middleton said he would recuse himself from any consideration of the legislation. But if his colleagues insist, he said, he would accept the honor.

“I just hope the bridge gets built in my lifetime,” he said.

mdresser@baltsun.com

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