- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 4, 2007

Efforts to expand the Chesapeake Bay Bridge or find another alternative for people crossing the Bay to reach the Eastern Shore appear to have sputtered, Maryland officials say.

Former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican, assembled a task force to look at a new Bay crossing, after campaigns encouraging off-peak travel and “EZ Pass” options being added to toll booths offered little relief.

Now, Mr. Ehrlich has been replaced by Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, and the concept, which could cost more than $3 billion and take a decade to complete, is going nowhere.

“It’s not under active consideration at this point,” said acting Maryland Transportation Department Secretary John D. Porcari.

Beyond the traditional summer travel of area residents going to Ocean City and other Eastern Shore resort towns, bridge traffic has been compounded by the high housing costs in cities that have sent people to less expensive homes east of the Bay.

Traffic engineers predict routine, 12-hour backups if nothing is done to get more people across the Bay faster and concluded that “further delay will only exacerbate an already serious problem,” according to the task force’s report.

Republican lawmakers say task force members should have gone beyond predicting problems and compiling information about four proposed bridge sites and the environmental complaints that followed.

“Why did they have a task force?” asked Sen. Richard F. Colburn, Dorchester Republican. “It kind of gives credence to the argument that we have too many task forces, and they’re a waste of taxpayer money.”

Delegate Michael D. Smigiel Sr., Cecil Republican, said residents in his voting district agreed that a new bridge is needed to bring relief to the existing east- and westbound spans, but they don’t want it in their neighborhoods.

“We all agree that the traffic conditions on the Bay Bridge currently are abysmal [but] everybody says, ‘Not in my back yard,’ ” Mr. Smigiel said.

Said Mr. Colburn: “Clearly, nobody wants a third Bay bridge in their back yard.”

Mr Porcari said the O’Malley administration may eschew big ideas such as a monorail in favor of immediate relief such as commuter buses. He also said the “Go Early, Stay Late” campaign will continue.

“In the short term, we need to do whatever we can — including commuter bus service — to provide alternatives,” Mr. Porcari said.

Residents near the bridge say they’re skeptical any relief is coming soon. Curtis Bolin, of Stevensville, moved to Kent Island in 1984 and has witnessed the roads getting ever busier.

“I’d say traffic’s probably doubled, more than doubled,” he said.

Mr. Bolin’s daughter, Lindsay, 20, said trips that should take 10 minutes can take about an hour in the summer. She doubted a bridge would be built in the coming decades.

“If you want to go over to Annapolis, it’s like, ‘Forget it,’ ” she said. “You’re basically stranded. It takes a half hour, 45 minutes just to get to lunch.”

Sen. E.J. Pipkin, Queen Anne’s Republican, said the skepticism goes beyond Kent Island.

“The chances of the bridge ever getting built are practically zero,” he said.

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