After months of delay, the Maryland Transportation Authority released a report on the four options for the proposed third Chesapeake Bay Bridge crossing span that the public can now comment on through May 10.
The report outlines the three possible crossing locations — one through Pasadena, one through Edgewater, and one through Annapolis next to the existing bridge — as well as a no-build option. The authority said last month that because of health concerns surrounding COVID-19, it was delaying the release and comment period on the draft report, a federal study called an Environmental Impact Statement.
In a media release about the draft, officials said they found that building a third span near the existing two bridges would be the best way forward. They said “a wide range of engineering and environmental factors” plus input from the government and public led them to that conclusion. Gov. Larry Hogan, who initiated the study in 2016, saying it would cost $5 million and would be funded by tolls, has said a third span in Annapolis is the only option he will accept.
Funding has not been identified for the next phase of study if one of the three corridors is selected, MDTA said in the media release.
The Queen Anne’s Conservation Association is opposed to the third span and hired Hanover-based engineering firm AKRF to complete a study of traffic conditions, published in December. The association said they found that the purpose and needs assessment tied to the bridge project doesn’t consider cashless tolling or the effect of increased telecommuting prompted by COVID-19.
County Executive Steuart Pittman said his administration will comment in opposition to the third span in Annapolis. He said he was disappointed that more consideration wasn’t given to the no-build option, given changes like electronic tolling and telecommuting considered in the AKRF study. He said he thinks the approach is based on a “sprawl development” mindset, and that the state should have other priorities.
”We’re wasting taxpayers’ money if we go into the next phase of the study,” he said.
In-person public hearings have now been scheduled, and the authority is also offering remote and online options to submit comments at www.baycrossingstudy.com. The two in-person public hearings will be held at the Doubletree Hotel in Annapolis April 21 and at the Kent Island American Legion Hall on April 22. People looking to register for those meetings can do so online or by calling 1-877-249-8370.
On Tuesday, the authority launched a “virtual information room,” which uses virtual reality to make it appear that the user is walking around a conference room filled with poster boards explaining different aspects of the project, as well as links to sign up to testify or leave a comment. There are even other people in the virtual information room, so you don’t feel alone.
After collecting public comment on the draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), a final EIS completed in conjunction with the Federal Highway Administration should be published next winter, in either 2021 or 2022, MDTA said in a media release.
The process is only just beginning, MDTA said in the release. After the final EIS is handed in, and if funding is available, the project will move into the next phase, tier 2, which could take between three and five years to complete, MDTA said.
Tier 1 winnows down the list of possible 2-mile wide corridors. Tier 2 would deal with the alignment of the crossing in that corridor, evaluate use of public transportation, look at environmental impacts and consider financing for the project.
Then, once a decision is secured from federal officials, the state would need to get land rights, design and build the bridge.