On Eve of Bridge Vote, Senators Urge Bike/Pedestrian Lane

The Harry W. Nice Bridge crossing the Potomac River. File photo

With the Maryland Transportation Authority board poised to vote on a replacement for the Gov. Harry W. Nice Memorial/Sen. Thomas “Mac” Middleton Bridge on Thursday, the state’s U.S. senators are encouraging the panel to include a separate bike and pedestrian lane on the new span.

In a letter to Maryland Transportation Secretary Pete K. Rahn on Wednesday, Sens. Chris Van Hollen (D) and Benjamin L. Cardin (D) said a “protected bike/pedestrian path” would boost “additional recreational tourism in Charles County for generations.”

When Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) announced plans to replace the existing Nice Bridge in 2016, he pledged that the new span would have a separate bike and pedestrian path.

Since that time, Rahn and other MDOT officials have backtracked, saying that feature may prove “too expensive.”

The Nice Bridge carries U.S. 301 traffic over the Potomac River, connecting Newburg and Dahlgren, Va.

The 1.7-mile span was built in 1940 and is nearing the end of its structural life, officials have said. In addition, the two-lane span is frequently backed up and dangerous, due to its design.

In their letter to Rahn, the senators express a willingness to work with the state to obtain federal funds for the project.

“The Nice Bridge is vital to the economy of Charles County, Southern Maryland, the State and the Nation and having protected bike/pedestrian access on the Nice Bridge has long been a goal of members of the Maryland Bicycle/Pedestrian Advisory Committee and the Charles County Commissioners,” the senators wrote.

“By including a protected bike/pedestrian path into the design of the replacement bridge, the MDTA would be supporting additional recreational tourism in Charles County for generations.”

The lawmakers make no promise that the state will qualify for federal funding for the Nice Bridge, but they note that Congress is now considering S. 2302, America’s Transportation Infrastructure Act. That bill includes a provision, the Bridge Investment Program, “that would establish a grant program to assist in the rehabilitation or replacement of structurally deficient bridges.”

“Once the bill becomes law we look forward to providing additional support to this and other programs that support our nation’s infrastructure through the Appropriations process,” the senators write.

Officials at the Maryland Department of Transportation did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Maryland Transportation Authority board has two items on its agenda for Thursday’s meeting — a contract that includes the protected bike and pedestrian path and one that does not.

The panel is accepting public comments prior to the vote.

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Bruce DePuyt
Bruce DePuyt spent nearly three decades on local television, including 14 years as executive producer and host of News Talk on NewsChannel 8 in the Washington, D.C., area. He has served as reporter, anchor and producer/host of 21 This Week in Montgomery County and as reporter/anchor at NBC affiliate WVIR-TV in Charlottesville, VA. He's a regular contributor to WTOP (103.5 FM) and frequently moderates community and political events.