Another Chesapeake crossing could change Delmarva

This map, labeled “pre-decisional and deliberative,” shows ideas for a future Chesapeake Bay crossing. The routes are numbered from one in the north to 14 in the south.

DOVER — A few days ago, some maps with options for a new Chesapeake Bay crossing hit the Internet.

Over the next few months, we will learn more about a Maryland study of preferred routes across the bay.

No doubt, this will be an interesting time — pitting those wanting progress and relief from traffic congestion against those who hate the thought of harm to the Eastern Shore’s farmlands and waterfront livelihoods.

And who knows how this will impact Delaware?

Will it mean more traffic through Sussex or Kent counties?

Will it change some small communities west of Dover?

Already, our Kent neighbors — those in the county of the same name in Maryland — are fretting. The map that has been circulating shows five of the 14 potential paths from the urban side of the bay connecting with rural Kent County, Maryland.

Is it possible that the charming fishing village of Rock Hall could become a suburb of Baltimore?

“The people of Kent County, Maryland, are fighting this,” wrote Mark Blair on the Delaware State News Facebook page. “Another bridge will change Delmarva, and nearly eliminate any open space. Farming will end throughout the area, and taxes for everyone will certainly increase. This bridge will comparable to the changes that came to Delaware and the Eastern Shore when Route 1 was completed. Think long and hard about how much you want to empty out Baltimore!”

The Maryland Transportation Authority gathered public comments last winter and the majority from Kent County were negative. However, there were a few voices in favor of change.

“As a business owner in Chestertown, I am supportive of a new span of the bay bridge coming to Kent County,” said one person whose name was not included in the report. “I have no doubt you guys are receiving a huge amount of negative feedback regarding a bridge coming into the county. But with a slightly more removed perspective, I would say Kent County needs this bridge to guarantee its future. Our county is shrinking, schools are consolidating, the hospital is reducing its services. And small business struggles to survive.”

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The Maryland Transportation Authority and Federal Highway Administration are leading the $5 million Chesapeake Bay Crossing Study.

It is intended to identify a preferred corridor to address Chesapeake Bay Bridge congestion, evaluate its cost, its impact on the environment and more.

Options are being considered from the northern-most portion of the Chesapeake in Harford and Cecil counties and as far south as Somerset County, Maryland. The northern options appear to connecting I-95 to U.S. 301 on the Eastern Shore.

A spokesman for the Maryland Transportation Authority said it did not release the map that has been circulating, saying it was in “draft form.” It is labeled “pre-decisional, deliberative” at the bottom.

Public hearings were supposed to begin this winter. However, they have been delayed until the spring because of the recent government shutdown. A schedule has not yet been released.

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We would appreciate comments from Delaware State News readers about the possible options and what concerns or opportunities this may present.

Certainly, the current Chesapeake Bay bridge — formally known as the William Preston Lane Jr. Memorial Bridge — is of great importance to commerce on both sides of the bay, and tremendously important to tourism.

The latter is especially evident on summer weekends. The Maryland study said congested conditions last four hours on average on weekdays, and 11 hours on summer weekends.

In a summary of the need, the Maryland Transportation Authority report said, “Summer vacations along the coast have also turned into household norms. However, increased use of the Bay Bridge has meant that daily commuters, regional travelers and vacationers have experienced increased congestion at the Bay Bridge, often struggling to reach their destinations with low confidence in travel times. Aging infrastructure, capacity limitations at the existing bridge, and an increasing demand for trips across the bay will only continue to exacerbate congestion and delays currently experienced by the traveling public.”

One statistic about Delaware in the Maryland Transportation Authority’s recent “purpose and need document” jumped out. It said the 24 percent of westbound bridge traffic on summer Sundays came from Sussex County.

With population growth, it’s hard to imagine how long the backups will be.

The Maryland Transportation Authority said weekday volume, 68,598 in 2017, would increase 23 percent to 84,276 by 2040,

A typical summer weekend day would go from 118,579 in 2017 to 135,280 by 2040 — an increase of 14 percent.

Maryland’s first bridge, connecting the Eastern Shore in Queen Anne’s County to the Western Shore in Anne Arundel, was built in 1952.

The second parallel bridge opened in 1973.

On the map, you’ll notice that another span next to the current ones — stretching from Sandy Point to Kent Island — is among the considerations.

Tell us what you think about the possibilities. Email newsroom@newszap.com or comment on this story in the “From the Editor” section at delawarestatenews.net.

Final reports will likely come out in December 2020.

For more information and updates, visit www.baycrossingstudy.com.

Reach Executive Editor Andrew West at awest@newszap.com

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