State pledges $56 million for Nice bridge replacement design

Officials in Maryland announced $56 million in new funding Thursday to cover right-of-way acquisitions and design work for the eventual replacement of the Gov. Harry W. Nice Memorial Bridge.

The 72-year-old bridge carries Route 301 over the Potomac River and serves as a major traffic artery between Charles County in Southern Maryland and King George County in Virginia.

About 17,900 vehicles cross the bridge each day, but that number is expected to more than double, to 37,000 vehicles per day, by 2030, Maryland Transportation Authority officials said.

The state plans to spend $56.1 million through 2019 on the right-of-way acquisitions and the design work, which will consider different bridge types and where piers will be placed in the Potomac, among other considerations, officials said.

"Together, with the support of local elected officials and federal partners, we are making a significant down payment on a wider, safer and more pedestrian-friendly Nice Bridge," said Gov. Martin O'Malley in a statement. "Southern Maryland residents have long waited for a new bridge, and this $50 million investment brings the new bridge one step closer to reality."

There are many steps to go. While initial planning was completed in 2012, the full replacement of the bridge is expected to cost close to $1 billion, officials said.

The plans include a four-lane bridge north and parallel to the existing bridge, complete with a two-way bicycle path.

The full cost of the bridge is not yet funded, and it remains unclear what sort of payment structure the state might decide on. It has recently turned to public-private partnerships, or P3s, for other large transportation projects, and the state will also look for federal funding, given the large price tag.

"We've always said the funding for the Nice bridge would likely come from a variety of sources," said Cheryl Sparks, a MdTA spokeswoman. "Everything would be on the table."

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