By Bruce DePuyt
State lawmakers appear poised to name a new bridge in honor of a long-serving member of the Southern Maryland delegation, partly to honor the legislator for keeping the project on the front burner and partly as payback for a snub from a top aide to Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan (R).
House Bill 4, sponsored by Del. Sally Y. Jameson (D-Charles), would name the replacement for the current Gov. Harry W. Nice Memorial Bridge the Nice/Middleton Bridge, in honor of Sen. Thomas M. “Mac” Middleton (D), who has represented Charles County in the Senate since 1995.
Jameson, who is not seeking re-election, said, “I just thought it would be nice if he got recognition for all his efforts to push for funding” of the new span.
The Nice Bridge, built in 1940, carries U.S. 301 over the Potomac River, connecting Newburg, Md., with Dahlgren, on Virginia’s Northern Neck. Just one lane in each direction, with no shoulder, the span is unable to handle increased traffic volumes and is nearing the end of its life. (“Even with redecking, by 2023 it would fall into the river,” Middleton said.)
The new bridge, with an expected cost of $765 million, will have two lanes in each direction and a bike/pedestrian path that is separated from traffic by a concrete barrier.
While legislators believe the well-liked Middleton, chairman of the Finance Committee, deserves the honor, they also see an opportunity to extract some revenge from the Hogan administration, which declined to invite Middleton to a November 2016 press conference at which the governor announced funding for the project.
Middleton told Maryland Matters that he heard about the Hogan event second-hand, but re-arranged his schedule so he could attend. Shortly after getting to the event, Middleton received a phone call from Chris Shank, Hogan’s chief legislative officer and a former state senator.
“Chris Shank found out I was there and he called me,” Middleton said. “And he said, ‘You weren’t invited.’ And I said, ‘What do you mean? [You put out] a press release.’”
“‘Yes, but we didn’t invite you,’” Shank told Middleton, according to the senator. “And I said, ‘Chris, I’m [already] here. What do you mean? And [Shank] said, ‘Actually we would prefer that you leave.’”
“I was hurt,” Middleton said of the snub. “All I wanted was to partner with them. [But] that’s the political nature that we’re living in.”
Asked about the incident after attending a Hogan news conference Thursday, Shank said, “I don’t talk to the press.”
Hogan’s spokesman Douglass V. Mayer said, “Our philosophy is not to concern ourselves with who gets credit and gets their name on a shiny little plaque somewhere. We’re just more concerned about the citizens of Southern Maryland who need that important crossing upgraded.”
Lawmakers need to “grow up,” Mayer said.
Groundbreaking on the new span is expected in 2020. It is slated to open in 2023. The existing span will be demolished when the new bridge is complete.
“I’ve always wanted to have a landfill or a sewage treatment plant named after me,” Middleton joked, “but to get a bridge is awesome.”