ANNAPOLIS – Traffic jams on the Chesapeake Bay bridge, and possible solutions, dominated discussion in the Senate Finance Committee Wednesday on bills to create a totally new authority for managing the bridge, or at least drastically change the existing management structure.
The William Preston Lane Jr. Memorial Bridge across the bay is currently under the Maryland Transportation Authority, headed by Transportation Secretary Robert Flanagan.
Bill sponsor Sen. Edward J. Pipkin, R-Queen Anne’s, other Eastern Shore legislators and their constituents are frustrated by traffic jams worsened by interstate truck traffic, summer tourists and construction to repair deterioration in the bridge structure.
Pipkin’s constituents are so angry about the delays that their e-mails really couldn’t be submitted as evidence, Pipkin said. But he did present a letter from Scott MacGlashan, clerk of Queen Anne’s County Circuit Court saying that attorneys and litigants frequently are delayed by traffic for hearings and other court matters, making an already heavy court docket worse.
Flanagan sharply disagreed with Pipkin’s proposal, saying that splitting off management of the Bay bridge from the state’s six other major toll tunnels and bridges would not solve the traffic issues and would lead to fiscal problems.
Although things can be done to improve traffic flow, such as making it easier to acquire E-ZPass electronic toll collectors, Flanagan said the traffic jams are a fundamental consequence of six-lane highway approaches feeding into only five lanes of bridge.
“The self-evident solution is to build a new bridge — the only question is where,” said William J. Hurley, who lives near the east end of the bridge in Grasonville. “It will cost hundreds of millions of dollars, but people need to step up now and make the tough, obvious solution — not waste taxpayer money to study the problem.”
“Let’s not cross that bridge till we come to it,” said Margaret McHale of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, to laughs. She said she was concerned about the profound environmental impacts, including farmland taken, of building another bay crossing.
“What about the environmental impact of backups, where all those cars idle, idle, idle?” asked Sen. J. Robert Hooper, R-Harford.
“We need to first study the impact rather than found an authority to decide that we will build a bridge,” McHale said.
She noted that information on submitted with Pipkin’s bill about the new authority’s revenue-raising authority implied it was ultimately aimed toward building another bay bridge.
Pipkin’s written testimony also said that since the new bridge management structure would be empowered to issue bonds, it could leverage its revenue to build much larger capital projects if needed.
But in response to McHale, Pipkin said the new authority had nothing to do with building a new bridge.
The infamous 13-mile traffic backups on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge are killing the motorist “geese” who want to lay “golden eggs” in Ocean City and elsewhere on the Eastern Shore, said Mahlon G. “Lon” Anderson, spokesman for the American Automobile Association. “They want to cross the bridge to ‘commit’ commerce,” Anderson said, “but are getting too frustrated to even try.” – 30 – CNS-3-9-05