Washington, D.C.- The Regional Transportation Board has voted to move forward with plans to replace the Governor Harry W. Nice/Senator Thomas “Mac” Middleton Bridge by a vote of 17-7, despite sharp divisions stemming from the Hogan Administration’s unwillingness to commit to a dedicated lane for bicycles and pedestrians.
The result from the vote means the Maryland Department of Transportation can seek low-interest federal financing considered key to making the $769 million project.
The current bridge which connects Charles County, Md and King George County, VA has stood for nearly 80 years.
In announcing plans to build a new bridge in 2016, Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) said the new bridge would be four lanes, with the grade-separated bike and pedestrian lanes.
The state’s decision to backtrack from that commitment disappointed biking enthusiasts and the Charles County commissioners, who have unanimously supported dedicated lanes for cyclists and pedestrians since 2009.
“Personally, I think this is an insult,” said Greenbelt Councilman Rodney M. Roberts. “The state made a commitment … to include the bike lanes. They can commit right here and now today, but they refuse to do so.”
“It’s a hundred-year decision,” said District Councilman Charles Allen (D). “I don’t know why we can’t get make the right decision upfront, rather than hope it works out.”
Reuben B. Collins II (D), president of the Charles County commissioners, acknowledged the fiscal realities the state faces, but he expressed hope that the final design includes bike lanes.
“Today this bridge connects two rural areas,” he said. “As our region grows, this area is likely to transform into a walkable, livable community that demands the necessary accommodations for safe travel.”
Hogan’s U-turn on bike lanes led to the abrupt resignation of Eric Brenner, chairman of the Maryland Bicycle/Pedestrian Advisory Committee.
In his resignation letter, Brenner accused the state of threatening Charles County officials, “saying that unless the amendment is passed the way they want, they would eliminate the entire bridge project and just let the current bridge further deteriorate.”
“Presenting this as an option does not meet any standard of credibility,” he added.
Two members of the planning board, speaking on condition of anonymity, agreed with Brenner’s assessment.
“They got bullied,” the pair said of the Charles County officials following the vote.