Op-Ed: A Bridge to Somewhere
by Elizabeth Watson, Judy Gifford, and Janet Christensen-Lewis
In the fall of 2018, the Maryland Transportation Authority will announce potential corridors for a third bridge across the Chesapeake Bay to Maryland’s Eastern Shore. We have less than one year to make sure such a corridor does not cross into Kent County and destroy our amazing landscape and rural character.
No matter where the location, make no mistake, it will have an impact on the entire Eastern Shore. What is at stake is the Eastern Shore’s quality of life, heritage, and highly productive farmland. Should Kent County be the selected location, our small agrarian rural county with the smallest population and landmass in Maryland would be swamped with traffic and our open space littered with fast food chains. Our unique identity would be ended.
Any emphasis on just the “Bridge” is misleading and perhaps intentional to distract us from thinking about the access corridor that must go with the crossing. This bridge will not be some little two-lane span that drops cars onto country roads. No, it will be four or six lanes with all the development that comes with such a project.
MDTA will specify where those impermeable asphalt and concrete ribbons scar the landscape after a mile-wide corridor has been identified in the study process that has just begun. At this point, we can only guess where a highway would transect Kent County. By imposing Maryland’s eminent domain to take protected lands, the destruction of the intact historic landscapes and open farmland of Kent County would be impossible to `mitigate.’
Maryland has designated $5 million for a Tier 1 Environmental Impact Statement, designed to narrow areas for a possible crossing from six zones, encompassing the entire Bay in Maryland, to a preferred corridor. In Tier 2, further environmental review will identify the actual route. Kent County has land within three of those zones. Every zone has its own unique set of conditions that will come under consideration. These include significant direct impacts on natural, human and cultural resources, plus secondary and cumulative impacts that transportation projects bring. The latter are often more significant and devastating to the fabric of communities. MDTA is rushing to make these evaluations impacting the entire Chesapeake Bay and the whole of Maryland to meet an artificially imposed deadline.
Reports produced by MDOT, MDTA and the information from the Task Force summary highlight numerous indicators that might be used in the assessments for another crossing.
First, Ocean City is a major economic engine for the State, second only to Baltimore as a contributor to the tourist industry. Ocean City tourism can expand when access becomes less constrained. Of course, this increased traffic will continue until once again there are more vehicles than highways to accommodate, continuing the vicious loop that building more roads perpetuates.
Second, a new bridge to the Eastern Shore would allow easy access to cheaper land and affordable housing for workers on the Western Shore without having to increase wages enough for them to afford housing closer to their work. Our efforts to protect open space have made Kent County an ideal target for sprawl from Baltimore and surrounding areas.
A third and perhaps less understood factor is freight transport moving within and through Maryland, estimated to be $1.6 trillion by 2040. The majority of this freight is moved by trucks. The new 301 Bypass, when completed, will increase truck pressure from our north. In fact, Delaware Department of Transportation’s “purpose and need” statement for the connector identifies the 95/1/301 construction, in the Final Environmental Impact Statement, as an alternative route for trucks to bypass the congestion and tolls of the I-95 corridor. State transportation studies give little to no consideration of improvements to rail lines as a path to lessen the load on our highways.
Once a terminus for a Bay Crossing is selected, it is unlikely to be changed in the future. NOW is the time to put an end to the Bay Crossing coming to Kent County that has been threatened since 1907. Our best defense is educated, organized and active citizens. Everyone who cares about the special attributes of our county should attend public meetings, submit comments and ask a lot of questions of our elected officials, MDOT and MDTA. Total transparency in the process, which to date has been lacking, can only happen if citizens make MDTA aware that we are informed and watching. The public must participate and know that there is urgency to participation. There will be no turning back once the Preferred Corridor is identified and the Record of Decision is published.
You are urged to stay involved and informed. This is going to be a community effort. Here are ways you can participate.
If you have not already written to the Bay Crossing Study with your comments, you can still submit them at http://www.baycrossingstudy.com/public-involvement/comment. From our conversations with MDTA, only about 400 comments have been submitted so far. Kent County must add many more comments.
Plan to attend a public information meeting that KCPA will host at Chestertown Firehouse Thursday January 25th at 6:30 PM. Information will be shared about statewide alliances, ways for you to take part in the NEPA process, especially the “purpose and need” exercise scheduled for this spring and other important ways you can help. We will share information that KCPA has obtained through contact and meeting with MDTA.
Contact our 36th district General Assembly representatives and the Kent County Commissioners to voice your concerns. Emphasize your expectation that the MDTA must distribute more than the bare minimum of information and provide adequate opportunities for meaningful public participation. Protest the artificial fast-track deadline.
MDTA has already added Venable, an American Lawyer 100 law firm as external legal representation. Be aware that a need and funds for legal representation will likely be necessary.
Elizabeth Watson, Judy Gifford, and Janet Christensen-Lewis are board members of the Kent Conservation and Preservation Alliance. For more information please go here