By: David M. Higgins II

The next few weeks are a critical time in the future of the Gov. Harry Nice/Senator Middleton Bridge. The Maryland Transportation Authority is expected to begin receiving the designs and bids, which are supposed to be picked by the Fall. The vote on the designs comes at a time when there is a sharp divide; a divide that could determine whether the expansion of the bridge moves forward.

The Charles County Government has thrown their support behind a scaled-back version of the expansion, hoping that the Maryland Transportation Authority(MdTA) will keep the originally planned bike and pedestrian trail project. The MdTA is an independent agency that finances, constructs, operates, and maintains Maryland toll facilities.

In October 2018, Regional transportation planners questioned the possible plans of making cyclists use a lane with cars, or squeeze a narrow path with pedestrians on one side. The current bridge, built in December 1940 to connect Newburg, Maryland, and Dahlgren, Virginia, over the Potomac River, is 1.7 miles long and only two lanes. The Maryland Transportation Authority plans to expand the 2.2-mile facility from today’s one lane each way to two lanes each way as part of a major project that will eventually demolish the aging structure within the next decade.

The originally selected alternative announced in 2012 promised two lanes for cars each way and a 10-foot-wide path that would have provided enough room for people walking or biking in opposite directions and was estimated to cost close to $1 billion. That alternative also included a changeover of the toll plaza to E-ZPass only, something Maryland is now planning onall toll facilities.

A 2012 Charles County plan calls for separated bike and pedestrian space on the bridge, and TPB staff pointed out that a 2016 state news release announcing $765 million in funding for bridge construction promised the separate path.

On Sunday, Maryland Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee Chairperson Eric Brenner resigned, after what he called,” lack of discussion or data to support cutting the trail out of the bridge project and projected economic, tourism, and environmental benefits that include the path.”

Charles County Commissioners President Reuben B. Collins II(D), urged the regional Transportation Board to approve the changes Wednesday as they stand.

“We believe the construction of a new, four-lane bridge is critical to relieving peak-period congestion while replacing an antiquated structure that frequently inhibits the movement of people and goods within our region,” Collins wrote.

” Allowing MdTA to break your original promise will not be viewed kindly in the years ahead-nor will it be correctable until the next bridge is built, more than 100 years from now,” Brenner wrote.

A concession made last year after significant regional concerns allow bidders to offer details about a narrowed but still separate bike and pedestrian path. The MdTA expects bids to be finished this month and the design-build contractor selected int eh fall.

David M. Higgins II, Publisher/Editor

David M. Higgins was born in Baltimore and grew up in Southern Maryland. He has had a passion for journalism since high school. After spending many years in the Hospitality Industry he began working in...