Sunday, April 23, 2006

ANNAPOLIS — A task force has spent more than a year on a report about building a third bridge across the Chesapeake Bay but still faces strong opposition to the proposal and appears no closer to picking a location.

“I’m laying in front of the bulldozers if it comes to that,” said Queen Anne’s County Commissioner Gene Ransom. “We’re adamantly opposed to a third bridge. It means more development, more traffic. My gut feeling is, we’ll never have a third bridge built.”

The problems with building a new bridge are many.

A new bridge would be longer, and therefore more expensive than the Chesapeake Bay Bridge between Annapolis and Kent Island. Roads leading to the bridge would have to be widened. Construction and noise from a new bridge would likely damage surrounding wetlands. And residents near the Bay fear their communities would become one long traffic jam like those on Kent Island on a summer holiday weekend.

But state transportation officials say sticking with just the Chesapeake Bay Bridge — officially named the William Preston Lane Jr. Memorial Bridge — is not the best option. They predicted last year that 12-hour traffic jams will become routine on the east- and westbound spans if something isn’t done.

The report was due out this month, won’t be ready until June and will not suggest where a new bridge should go — just outline the pros and cons relate to the four proposed regions in which to build the bridge.

Trent Kittleman, executive secretary of the Maryland Transportation Authority, said the report will be more of a compilation of research than a proposal.

Even if a site for a new bridge were settled, estimates vary on how quickly it could be ready. Mrs. Kittleman said some transportation specialists have suggested it would take 20 years.

Each of the four regions has drawbacks. A northern crossing, from the Baltimore area to Kent County, might not take enough traffic off the Chesapeake Bay Bridge. And a new bridge alongside its existing spans is strongly opposed by Annapolis and Kent Island residents.

The other two options — a new bridge from somewhere in Southern Maryland to the lower Eastern Shore — would attract D.C.-area drivers but would require the condemnation of a great deal of land.

Sen. John C. Astle, Anne Arundel Democrat who served on the task force, said bridge construction would be the easiest part, compared to road and land issues.

Sen. Richard F. Colburn, Dorchester County Republican, predicted traffic snarls and exploding development anywhere a bridge would be built.

“Nobody wants it,” he said. “Basically the people of the Eastern Shore don’t want to be another Anne Arundel County.”

He also thinks a new bridge should go alongside the existing spans near Annapolis because “there’s no need to take another pristine area of the Eastern Shore.”

Mrs. Kittleman said getting more people to use E-ZPass instead of cash at Chesapeake Bay Bridge toll booths would ease congestion and that the state will likely revive last year’s “Go Early, Stay Late” promotion because it improved summer bridge traffic. She said state officials are also considering an increase to the $2.50 toll to cross the bridge on busy summer weekends to encourage off-peak travel.

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