EASTON — An estimated 100 people attended the Bay Crossing Study open house on Thursday, Oct. 3, at the Talbot County Community Center, where residents could give feedback on the study’s progress.
The Chesapeake Bay Crossing Study, currently in its first phase, is a National Environmental Policy Act study that will result in the identification of a preferred corridor alternative for a third crossing over the Chesapeake Bay.
Guests had the opportunity to view the study through more than 30 display boards, and staff was available to answer questions. They also could watch a 20-minute film and fill out a comment card to express their concerns. The Maryland Transportation Authority has received more than 1,100 comments since the study began.
“The MDTA and Federal Highway Administration are following a tiered National Environmental Policy Act process that has very specific steps that must be taken,” MDTA spokesman John Sales said. “Tier 1 completion does not presume Tier 2 initiation. Tier 2 is not funded at this time.
“If a Tier 2 study proceeds, the study would take several years to review potential alignments and develop a financial plan that could lead to the Federal Highway Administration ultimately approving one alignment with a Tier 2 Record of Decision.”
Local officials at the open house included Sen. Addie Eckardt, R-37-Mid-Shore; Del. Johnny Mautz, R-37B-Talbot; Talbot County Councilwoman Laura Price; Easton Ward 2 Councilman Don Abbatiello; Easton Ward 3 Councilman Ronald Engle; and Melissa Kelly, representative for Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md.
The Bay Crossing Study includes scoping; purpose and need development; corridor alternative analysis and screening; traffic and environmental analyses; and public and agency involvement. Funded by toll dollars, the study began in 2016 and is expected to be complete in 2021.
MDTA owns, finances, operates and maintains the William Preston Lane Jr. Memorial (Bay) Bridge and is conducting the $5 million study.
The study is taking four preliminary alternatives to the public: three possible locations of a new bridge and a no-build alternative.
Peter Howell of Easton said he was unaware of how many different options had been considered.
“I did not realize that there were 14 or 18 or how many they started out with,” he said. “I understand that there exist tunnels under the Bay Bridge and would like to see those activated. It seems to me that reviving and opening up the tunnels is a least expensive option and worth a look.”
The display boards showed how the screening process determined that as a standalone option, none of the modal and operational alternatives meet the project needs. Modal and operational alternatives have been eliminated from further analysis in this Tier 1 NEPA study.
The Transportation System Management and Travel Demand Management, Ferry Service and Bus Rapid Transit would be studied in combination with alignment alternatives if a Tier 2 NEPA study moves forward. The NEPA process could move into the Tier 2 study if a corridor alternative were to be approved by the Federal Highway Administration in the Tier 1 Record of Decision expected in summer 2021.
“I hope the public input demonstrates all the concerns of the residents in Talbot County and how the third option will affect the county,” Mautz said. “It just creates a problem for this county by exacerbating existing traffic jams. Back it up further in Anne Arundel and it is going to push it further down here. A bigger concern is that there isn’t money to build a bridge.”
After this round of open houses, MDTA will begin analyzing the corridor alternatives retained for analysis and developing the Draft Tier 1 Environmental Impact Statement. There will be more opportunities for the public to get involved during the study’s public hearings, which are expected to be held in fall 2020.
At these public hearings, MDTA will present the results of analyses that will have been conducted to date, as well as the recommended preferred corridor alternative.
If a corridor alternative is approved by the Federal Highway Administration in the Tier 1 Record of Decision, the NEPA process could move into a Tier 2 study. If a Tier 2 study proceeds, the study would take several years to review potential alignments and develop a financial plan that could lead to the Federal Highway Administration ultimately approving one alignment in the Tier 2 Record of Decision.
Bob Luff of Wittman expressed disappointment after looking at the proposed plans.
“My concern is the process seems like you just can’t focus on the start without at the same time considering the second half of the system simultaneously,” he said, “because the second half may drive the first half optimization. For example, the traffic lights in Easton.”
Additional open houses are scheduled from 6 to 8 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 9, at Kent Island High School in Stevensville and 6 to 8 p.m. Monday, Oct. 28, at Annapolis High School.
“Comments are vital to the success of the study and will be taken into consideration throughout the study,” Sales said. “We want to hear from residents and commuters alike on their thoughts about everything on the boards. To date, we have received comments about specific crossing locations, environmental/land use, general support or opposition for the study and/or improvements, traffic and infrastructure.”
To view the display boards being provided at the public open houses and Bay Crossing Tier 1 Study updates, or to submit a comment online, visit baycrossingstudy.com.