- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 6, 2007

An Eastern Shore lawmaker yesterday proposed a radical solution to a transportation problem that has long befuddled Maryland officials.

Delegate Michael D. Smigiel Sr., Cecil County Republican, asked the General Assembly’s environmental matters committee to study the feasibility of a seven-mile monorail system on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, from Annapolis to Kent Island.

With plans for a new bridge span all but dead, Mr. Smigiel said action must be taken to avoid a 40 percent increase in bridge traffic by 2025, as reported in a 2004 state study.

“What we know right now is that traffic conditions over the Bay Bridge are horrific,” said Mr. Smigiel, whose district includes Queen Anne’s County. “We also know that currently, we’re looking at routine 12-hour backups in 10 to 20 years — if we do nothing.”

Mr. Smigiel cited successful monorail systems in Las Vegas, Seattle and Jacksonville, Fla.

In fiscal 2005, nearly 26 million vehicles crossed the bridge, according to the Maryland Transportation Authority.

A yearlong state investigation into whether a new bridge should be built was released in August without a recommendation.

A task force of 19 state and Eastern Shore officials appointed by former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican, concluded more study is needed before a new bridge can be considered, but warned that delayed action would worsen the traffic issue.

Christiaan Blake, legislative liaison for the state’s transportation department, said the study would likely cost $2 million to $4 million — money the state doesn’t have.

“It’s exciting to hear bold public transit ideas such as the one being discussed,” he said. “But the fact of the matter is monorail is not a major use of public transportation in the United States. And we can’t find a monorail system in the world that goes across a major body of water.”

Ken R. Slazyk, the captain-manager for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s James River boat program, said such studies would be a waste “unless the state is willing to eventually spend about $6 billion — in today’s dollars.”

“Monorail system must have a concentration of people at each end, and a distribution system that can quickly move people,” he said. “Monorails only work when it goes from A to B, and B to A.”

Mr. Smigiel said it was “absolutely ridiculous” that the transportation department would dismiss the idea because of a lack of funding for study.

“I don’t know how it’s done here, but in the real world, you call up the people who make [the monorails] and say, ‘Come and present to us the feasibility and what it would cost,’ ” he said.

Mr. Smigiel said his idea, while feasible, will likely stall as quickly as summertime bridge traffic. He said the onus is now upon the monorail’s detractors to come up with a viable solution.

“What is the cost of not moving forward?” he asked. “We have people dying in Queen Anne’s County because they can’t get an ambulance to get them over to emergency medical centers. If you don’t like my idea, step up to the plate and propose a better one.”

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