Avoiding bridge-building


ANNAPOLIS -- In 2004 a task force was created to examine the possibility of building a new bridge across the Chesapeake Bay to help ease the notorious traffic congestion on the Bay Bridge.

And that would be a good thing, right?

Not according to two state senators who don't want the bridge in their districts.

Both senators agree that there is a traffic problem for drivers traveling to and from Ocean City, but neither wants his district to host the bridge that would solve the problem.

Sen. E.J. Pipkin, an Eastern Shore Republican, is sponsoring a bill that would prohibit the planning, designing, financing, condemning property for or constructing of another Chesapeake Bay bridge that has one end in Kent County.

"For 107 years there's been a threat of a bridge being built," Pipkin said. Building a bridge in Kent County would "destroy the nature of the county and everything they've worked for the last 100 years."

If a new bridge is not built north of the current bay crossing, it would have to be built farther south, said Sen. Roy P. Dyson, a Southern Maryland Democrat. That means his district.

"If this bill were to pass, there's only one place to put it," Dyson said. "That's Calvert County."

To avoid that, Dyson drafted an amendment to Pipkin's bill that would prohibit the Maryland Transportation Authority and the Department of Transportation from building a bridge that has one end in Calvert.

"The traffic there is nightmarish already," he said. "An additional bay bridge would overwhelm the transportation system in Southern Maryland."

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Thomas M. Middleton, a Charles County Democrat, asked Pipkin if he would support Dyson's amendment in a hearing last Thursday. Pipkin could only laugh.

But putting any type of limitations on where a bridge can be built would violate the federal National Environmental Policy Act, which requires MdTA to consider all reasonable alternatives, said Simela Triandos, director of the division of capital planning.

Opponents of a bay bridge in Kent County have already gotten together a petition drive to block a bridge there.

Ira B. Grossman was one of the people to sign a petition to "preserve" Kent County. The resident of Earleville, a town in southern Cecil County, said building a new bridge would commercialize the little beauty that is left on the Eastern Shore.

"It would be a crime to lose that beauty and the quality that Kent County now has," Grossman said. He acknowledges that traffic across the Chesapeake Bay is something that needs to be dealt with, just not necessarily now - or in Kent County.

"I think eventually [building] an additional bridge where the bridge now exists; that's the way it should be handled," he said.

Other solutions to the Bay Bridge's current traffic problems have been suggested before, including building a tunnel beneath the bay or resuming a ferry system that was used in pre-bridge times.

Dyson had his own idea: "You almost have to build an elevated roadway beginning at the Beltway and bring it all the way to Ocean City."

Maya T. Prabhu is a reporter for Capital News Service.

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