A study says a 2-mile wide corridor surrounding U.S. 50/301 is the recommended route for a new potential Chesapeake Bay crossing.
An initial environmental study for identifying the corridor received the seal of approval from the Federal Highway Administration, the Maryland Transportation Authority announced Thursday.
The corridor between Annapolis and Stevensville, where the existing Bay Bridge is, was chosen from several options. It was selected after considering cost, environmental impacts and existing infrastructure, according to the study.
Transportation Authority Executive Director Will Pines said the roughly four-and-a-half-year process vetted 14 corridors spanning as far north as Harford County and as far south as St. Mary’s County, four modal and operation alternatives and a no-build alternative. Options ranging from a ferry service to rapid bus transit were considered.
“We feel like we did extensive work looking at a lot of different options and had a lot of public involvement,” Pines said.
Republican Gov. Larry Hogan initiated the study for an alternative corridor in 2016 and said it would cost $5 million and be funded by tolls. The study was made available online at baycrossingstudy.com and at several area libraries starting Friday.
The corridor is 22 miles in length. It follows the existing Bay Bridge road network along U.S. 50/301 from west of the Severn River on the Western Shore to the U.S. 50/301 split on the Eastern Shore, according to the study.
Pines said identifying the corridor and getting federal approval is the first step in a much longer process of potentially constructing something new in that space.
The next step would be a second study, aimed at analyzing crossing types — like a third bridge, a tunnel or options that would replace the existing bridges. Pines said the transportation authority is now in the process of figuring out how to fund the next study, which he anticipates will cost around $30 million. Pines said he could not set a schedule for the study until a funding source has been determined.
“Options for funding could include federal funds, in the form of the infrastructure bill or appropriations or, potentially, we would leverage state funding, which would be MDTA toll revenue dollars,” Pines said.
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Another consideration is whether the counties affected will be on board. To determine this, the transportation authority will turn to the Consolidated Transportation Program, a list of the Maryland Department of Transportation’s plans for the coming years. Ahead of the plan, the transportation department solicits letters from the counties listing their priorities.
“We’ll be looking for the counties as to whether or not continuing the next phase of the study and the Tier 2 is something they’re supportive of,” Pines said.
Anne Arundel County did cite a bay bridge alternative as a priority to consider last year and said it is being considered for the priority list this upcoming year, as well, said Lori Rhodes, deputy chief administrative officer for land use for the county executive.
Democratic County Executive Steuart Pittman issued a statement Thursday saying he was concerned that continued use of this corridor would add traffic to a congested thoroughfare. He said his next priority, if the project continues, will be advocating for the affected residents.
“While we would have preferred a crossing that would draw traffic to other corridors, we must now work to ensure that the next phase of study protects our existing communities and environmentally sensitive areas,” Pittman said in the statement. “We must also explore future traffic patterns along the whole Route 50 corridor, including options for public transit, shifts from sprawl development to smart growth, and telecommuting.”
The County Council passed a resolution last summer indicating it wanted an alternative. Queen Anne’s and other Eastern Shore counties voiced their support to the transportation authority for creating an alternative to the current bridge setup, as well, said Pines. Queen Anne’s County Administrator Todd Mohn said the Board of County Commissioners is particularly excited at the possibility of a replacement bridge.
“Frankly, other corridor alternatives had levels of service that oftentimes were still very severely congested,” Pines said, adding that Pittman’s concerns, environmental and residential impact, have been and would continue to be considered if the process continues. “Those are considerations that would be more fully vetted during a Tier 2 study.”