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Thinking big doesn't necessarily mean another Bay Bridge

There are better ways to meet the state's transit needs.

While it is gratifying to hear Gov. Larry Hogan's concerns about traffic across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, his announcement focusing on a shiny new span lacks any real discussion about cost or the impact of a flood of new people, traffic and roadways on rural Maryland ("Hogan announces plan to study building third Bay Bridge span," Aug. 30).

There is a large and growing body of evidence that the conventional approach to solving traffic congestion by increasing highway capacity is ineffective over the long term. The most immediate example is Route 1 in Delaware — an expensive, new north-south highway that was over capacity the day it opened. And concurrent with the highway's construction were massive amounts of sprawl housing in southern New Castle County that immediately overwhelmed the new infrastructure.

We are long overdue for a more modern approach to transportation planning — one that emphasizes mass transit and other forward thinking measures that make the most out of the infrastructure we have and emphasizes land use decisions that decrease auto dependence and increase transportation choices.

What about expanded bus services with a stronger backbone service from Baltimore and Washington to Ocean City, stopping in key population centers, and complementary service from rural areas to the backbone stops? Or public-private partnerships such as a high-speed ferry option? And should an eventual new bridge be built, what about revisiting passenger rail (which used to exist on the Eastern Shore)?

With declining gas tax revenues, changing living preferences for millennials and a warming planet caused in part by our poor transportation habits, the time is now for fresh thinking.

Fresh thinking on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge situation could also include ideas such as setting up telecommuting centers in our Eastern Shore small towns, and government policies that allow state and federal employees to work from home on peak traffic days, thus saving fuel and reducing pollution while also stimulating the vibrancy of our towns.

Implementing new toll collection technologies and policies that do away with the booths while increasing rates during peak use periods and decreasing them for high-occupancy vehicles is yet another direction that could be explored for considerably less money.

Spending $5 million to study the environmental impacts of a new Bay Bridge feels like fiddling while Rome burns. Let's talk about the things we can do today to relieve congestion immediately, then think about what might be needed to manage travel across the bay over the long term. Only then should we start to consider whether a new bridge is worth its considerable financial and environmental costs.

Rob Etgen

The writer is the executive director of the Eastern Shore Land Conservancy.

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