EASTON — In a unanimous decision, Talbot County Council members delayed a letter of support to the Maryland Transportation Authority regarding the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Transit Study at the Tuesday, Sept. 12 regular session.
Council’s decision was based on gaining more insight from the 2019 Bay Crossing Study Open House that will take place from 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 3, at the Talbot County Community Center located at 10028 Ocean Gateway.
A preliminary study has found that the best site for a third Bay Bridge would be near the two existing spans.
Two other options — one to Kent County and one to Talbot County — would give some relief to traffic congestion at the current bridges, according to the Maryland Transportation Authority. In addition to those three alternatives, the agency also will continue to review an option not to build a new span over the Chesapeake Bay.
“While the No-Build alternative and three preliminary corridor alternatives are being included in the federal environmental process for further study, traffic models indicate that one of the three — building a third crossing within the same corridor as the existing Bay Bridge (Corridor 7) — would have the most positive impact on reducing traffic,” said MDTA Executive Director Jim Ports in a press release.
As part of the Chesapeake Bay Crossing Study: Tier 1 National Environmental Policy Act study (Bay Crossing Study), MDTA invites all interested parties to learn about: the environmental review process for the Bay Crossing Study, the overall study schedule, public comments received to date, and alternatives development, screening process and results.
“The meetings are three weeks away, and rather than issue a letter this evening, I think we should let them have their public hearing so that it would give us the opportunity to hear some of the additional arguments,” Talbot County Council member Laura Price said.
Price also said the time would allow county engineer Ray Clarke to collect some more environmental data, to be added in the formal response. Another meeting addressing the same topic is scheduled for Oct. 15.
“I think we all know the direction of the letters to go, I would ask that we would not send, and that we let the state have their process and collect all of the data and comments we are going to hear over the next month and set something up after that request,” Price said.
At the open houses, MDTA will provide information and receive feedback on the range of alternatives and the preliminary findings that include: The Bay Crossing Study Tier 1, is also looking into retaining the No-Build alternative and these Preliminary Corridor Alternatives Retained for Analysis (CARA); Corridor 6: MD 100 to US 301 between Pasadena (Anne Arundel County), Rock Hall (Kent County) and Centreville (Queen Anne’s County); Corridor 7: existing Bay Bridge corridor, US 50/301 to US 50 between Crofton (Anne Arundel County) and Queenstown (Queen Anne’s County); and Corridor 8: US 50/301 between Crofton (Anne Arundel County) and Easton (Talbot County).
Clarke, along with Assistant County Engineer Mike Mertaugh, provided a presentation to council members about Corridor 8.
According to the power point presentation, Corridor 8:
Reduces the duration of unacceptable Level of Service, at the existing Bay Bridge on summer weekends but not on non-summer weekdays; Relieves congestion at the existing Bay Bridge on both non summer weekdays and summer weekends; Reduces backups at the existing Bay Bridge on Summer weekends and non summer weekdays; Provides a more desirable diversion route than corridor 5 and corridor 9, but not as efficient as corridor 7; Less compatible with existing land use patterns resulting in greater potential for indirect effects
“After the Oct. 3 meeting, we will find time to put it back on the agenda,” Talbot County President Corey Pack said. “We are on the record for our opposition, and this letter would be doubling down on what we we already sent them through former Talbot County Council President Jennifer Williams last year.”
On Tuesday Aug. 27, MDTA faced Queen Anne’s County Commissioners with an update on Tier 1 of the NEPA study.
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.”
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.
In a series of recent tweets in early September, Gov. Larry Hogan likely made many worried Kent County residents happy because he supports a new bridge at the existing spans.
Kent County residents have been concerned throughout the process that a new Bay Bridge would land there, as the Rock Hall and Tolchester areas were seen as possible sites before the William Preston Lane Jr. Memorial (Bay) Bridge was constructed.
While Kent County remains one of the three viable alternatives so far identified in the National Environmental Policy Act study, Hogan is standing with MDTA Executive Director Jim Ports in preferring a new span at the site of the current Bay Bridge.
“There is only one option I will ever accept: adding a third span to our existing Bay Bridge. While the federal process requires multiple proposals, the data is indisputable — this option would maximize congestion relief & minimize environmental impact,” Hogan stated in a series of tweets Aug. 28.
For more information on the proposed crossings and upcoming open houses, visit the MDTA’s site www.baycrossingstudy.com.