CENTREVILLE — As Tier 1 of the National Environmental Policy Act Study continues with three recommended locations for the future span across the Chesapeake Bay, the Maryland Transportation Authority faced Queen Anne’s County Commissioners Tuesday, Aug. 27.
James Ports, MDTA executive director, was joined by Will Pines, MDTA acting chief engineer, to answer logistical questions about the next phase of the NEPA study expected in Summer 2021. According to Ports, following the Tier 1 study, a Tier 2 study would identify specific alignment alternatives within the corridor alternative that is identified in Tier 1.
“This isn’t the end of Tier 1, but it starts the public input phase of the study,” said Ports. “We go through that process because the NEPA process is a federal government (requirement). We are the ones that do it for the state to make sure all the data is correct.”
The prolonged process drew ire from County Commissioner Jim Moran who pressed Ports for a tentative date on any actual physical construction and completion for a new span.
Ports noted that question still has no answer in sight since a final location or dimensions of the proposed bridge are unknown.
“You can’t get me within a decade of when this will happen?” Moran asked. “What we’re dealing with is a federal process, and if that’s what’s slowing us down, then we need to deal with that.”
The three proposed corridors include: Corridor 6 at Route 100 to Route 301 between Pasadena in Anne Arundel County, Rock Hall in Kent County, and Centreville; Corridor 7 at the existing Bay Bridge corridor at Routes 50 and 301 between Crofton in Anne Arundel County and Queenstown; and Corridor 8 at Routes 50 and 301 between Crofton and Easton in Talbot County.
According to MDTA findings, Corridor 7 “where the existing Bay Bridge is today, provides the most congestion relief.” Yet neither Ports nor Pines addressed the current traffic woes already facing the county or how another span would alleviate them. And all three proposed corridors dump the traffic back onto already crowded highways.
“Corridor 7 would best reduce backups at the existing Bay Bridge, provide the greatest reduction in the duration of unacceptable congestion levels, and is more compatible with existing land-use patterns,” the study states.
Ports did say a public input session would be held at Wednesday, Sept. 25 at Queen Anne’s County High School in Centreville, but the commissioners asked that it be rescheduled due to a conflict with the county’s economic development summit. An alternative date and time has been suggested for October, but that has not been confirmed.
“I’ve heard the American Legion Bridge also had to go through a NEPA study and what needed 10 years did it in a little over two years. No matter where the bridge goes, the longer it takes, the more this county suffers,” Moran said.
Moran also said that failure to address the traffic conundrum will lead property values in the county to drop.
Ports said much of the strain occurred when economic development in Ocean City and Rehoboth Beach took place making the beach resort towns a destination for vacation traffic. Additional issues stemmed from an influx of residents to the Eastern Shore causing a population boom.
“The (Bay Bridge) has gone through 35 years of neglect with nothing being done. But now we have all this construction happening to this bridge, and we don’t see any hope,” Moran said.