Bay Bridge Advisory Panel Likely to Add Citizen Members

Westbound traffic approaching the Bay Bridge stalled during the fall because of a bridge re-decking project. Photo by Bruce DePuyt

In the wake of a much-criticized Bay Bridge resurfacing project, the state Senate on Tuesday gave tentative approval to a measure that would expand the public’s role in rehabilitation projects on the span.

The Republican-led measure, Senate Bill 13, requires that top agency officials and travelers who use the bridge meet regularly to discuss the impact of projects such as the ongoing resurfacing of the right lane of the westbound span.

That road work created lengthy backups on the Eastern Shore, triggering a cascade of criticism from leaders in Queen Anne’s County, Comptroller Peter V.R. Franchot (D) and others.

The measure also moves the existing Chesapeake Bay Bridge Reconstruction Advisory Group from the Maryland Transportation Authority to the Department of Transportation.

The revamped advisory board will include the secretary of transportation, the executive director of the MdTA, two citizens appointed by the Queen Anne’s County Commission, two citizens chosen by the Anne Arundel County Council, and six residents of the two counties appointed by the governor.

The measure’s chief sponsor, Senate Minority Whip Stephen S. Hershey Jr. (R-Upper Shore), said state lawmakers, local leaders and members of the existing advisory panel were all caught off-guard by the months-long resurfacing on the Bay Bridge, which he called “embarrassing.”

“Many of the [local] elected officials did not know about this new resurfacing project until it was announced via Facebook,” Hershey said. “So a lot of this is to try to make sure that we open up communications and transparency of any of the projects that are going on around the bridge.”

After weeks of public criticism, Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) seized control of the project last fall and ordered crews to ramp up their work on the span. Hogan announced earlier this month that the work is on pace to finish a year ahead of schedule.

“Things are going much better now as a result of our stance on this,” Hershey said.

As originally drafted, the measure also required MDOT to conduct a traffic study of the bridge and Route 50 on both sides of the span, from Route 97 to Route 404, and to make recommendations for improving vehicle flow. Those requirements have been dropped.

SB 13 is expected to receive final approval in the coming days. It is an emergency bill and would take effect immediately if it passes both chambers and is signed by the governor.

The measure has co-sponsors from both sides of the bridge and both political parties, including senators Edward R. Reilly (R-Anne Arundel County), Pamela Beidle (D-Anne Arundel County) and Sarah K. Elfreth (D-Anne Arundel County, as well Hershey, whose district includes parts of several Eastern Shore counties.

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