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Bay Bridge study narrows options to three crossings from Anne Arundel County

Traffic jams the toll plaza on Route 50 after the eastbound span of the Bay Bridge was closed in 2011. The Maryland Transportation Authority released a two-year study on the bridge Thursday that assessed the safety of the Chesapeake Bay crossing and construction options for offsetting the growing traffic congestion.
Traffic jams the toll plaza on Route 50 after the eastbound span of the Bay Bridge was closed in 2011. The Maryland Transportation Authority released a two-year study on the bridge Thursday that assessed the safety of the Chesapeake Bay crossing and construction options for offsetting the growing traffic congestion. (File photo by Joshua McKerrow //Capital Gazette)

Maryland has narrowed the options for a new Chesapeake Bay crossing to three sites in Anne Arundel County — immediately spurring concerns from county leaders.

One option is to add a third span at the current Bay Bridge, which stretches from Sandy Point on the Broadneck Peninsula across to Kent Island.

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But it’s the other two options that are more concerning to Anne Arundel leaders: building a bridge from Pasadena to Rock Hall, or from the Mayo Peninsula to Easton.

All three sites — as well as a “no build” option — will be the subject of community meetings on both sides of the bay in September and October.

The Maryland Transportation Authority settled on those three options after traffic projections showed more northern or southern bay crossings would not significantly reduce existing Bay Bridge traffic for weekday commuters, or for weekend drivers in the summer.

The option to add a third span at the existing Bay Bridge would reduce traffic the most and therefore “has the greatest potential,” said Jim Ports, executive director of the Maryland Transportation Authority, which is conducting the study. The review is expected to continue until 2021, when the state will choose a preferred route.

“It’s pretty obvious when you look at the numbers,” Ports said.

Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman said he’ll oppose any effort to build a bay crossing from Pasadena or Mayo.

“The two Pasadena and Mayo peninsula crossings are something that we would fight, clearly. The destruction of those communities is not something that we would support, and that’s what it would be,” he said.

Pittman, a Democrat, said the Maryland Transportation Authority’s car-focused plan to build a new bridge — and possibly destroy communities in the process — represents “very backwards thinking.” Pittman said he believes other options, such as rapid bus lines and ferries, weren’t given enough consideration as an option for helping reduce traffic.

But the two new possible Anne Arundel bridge locations are still on the table for public input meetings that are part of an ongoing federal environmental study process.

“I think they know the other two are not viable. The existing crossing is probably where they’re looking," Pittman said.

Ports disputed that his agency is trying to skew the study to favor a certain result.

“We’re not manipulating the data. The data is the data,” he said. “We’re prohibited from picking. We can’t say, ‘Well, we really like this corridor over that corridor.' "

Both the Pasadena and Mayo options present what appear to be significant challenges, and MDTA materials note that both are “less compatible with existing land-use patterns.”

The MDTA’s maps show thick lines drawn to represent the bridge crossings, without specifying an exact route.

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Anne Arundel County Councilman Nathan Volke, who represents Pasadena, said he can’t figure out how a bay crossing from his community could possibly work.

“I just can’t see any logistical, realistic, feasible way the state could do it,” said Volke, a Republican. “It seems like a complete pipe dream.”

The MDTA materials say the bridge would come off Route 100, but that highway ends well before the end of the Pasadena Peninsula. Narrow Mountain Road carries traffic to the end of the peninsula, which is dotted with homes, farms, and Downs Park, a 236-acre waterfront county park. At the end of the peninsula is Gibson Island, a gated island community of multimillion-dollar homes.

Volke said Mountain Road, notoriously prone to gridlock from car crashes, won’t be able to handle additional beach-bound traffic, should a bridge ever be built. He predicted Pasadena residents would come out strongly opposed to a bay crossing.

“If you’re trying to run this through Pasadena, you’re going to face a lot of opposition,” he said.

The other proposed new site in southern Anne Arundel County would face similar challenges.

The MDTA materials note the potential new crossing south of Annapolis would come off Route 50, but traffic actually would need to go down much narrower Route 214, also known as Central Avenue, across the Mayo Peninsula to reach the bay.

The end of that peninsula includes residential communities and two large county parks: Beverly Triton Nature Park and Mayo Beach Park.

“You’d have to destroy quite a bit of the peninsula, it seems to me, in order to make this feasible, and I have a hard time understanding how they’d overcome that,” said Councilwoman Jessica Haire, a Republican who represents the Mayo Peninsula.

Haire said she expects her constituents will vocally oppose any plan to run a highway and bridge through their community.

“I never in my wildest dreams would have imagined this would be one of the three that they chose,” she said. “Anyone who lives on the Mayo Peninsula who sees this will probably be incredulous.”

The three Anne Arundel locations were narrowed down from a list of 14 potential crossings that the MDTA announced in February. At that time, the MDTA issued a map that showed thick lines drawn all up and down the bay, indicating potential crossings.

In the intervening months, all the potential crossings that originated in Harford County, Baltimore County and southern Maryland were eliminated, leaving only the Anne Arundel County options.

The MDTA’s study, called a Tier I Environmental Impact Statement, began in 2016 and isn’t expected to be completed until 2021. By the end of the process, a preferred route for a new bay crossing will be selected. Further evaluation of the route, including potential environmental effects, would come in a Tier II study.

Ports said it would be premature to discuss whether or when a Tier II study would take place, let alone whether the state would ultimately pursue building a bridge or how much a new bridge would cost.

“It’s just too far out to determine at this point,” Ports said.

The MDTA has scheduled several public meetings to discuss the bridge options, which all will run from 6-8 p.m.:

  • Sept. 24 at Kent County High School in Worton.
  • Sept. 25 at Queen Anne’s County High School in Centreville.
  • Sept. 26 at Calvert High School in Prince Frederick.
  • Oct. 1 at Middle River Middle School in Middle River.
  • Oct. 2 at Anne Arundel Community College in Arnold.
  • Oct. 3 at Talbot County Community Center in Easton.
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