I am pleased to announce the Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the Chesapeake Bay Crossing Study: Tier 1 National Environmental Policy Act is available for public review and comment at baycrossingstudy.com.
We understand the significance of the Bay Bridge to the state and the broader mid-Atlantic region, and we recognize that once the bridges were constructed, Queen Anne’s County and most of the Eastern Shore, including Ocean City, went from difficult destinations to reach to thriving, growing communities.
The day-to-day negative effects of congestion at the Bay Bridge are substantial and are projected to worsen. To address this issue, in 2016, Gov. Larry Hogan announced the start of the Tier 1 Bay Crossing Study for the purpose of addressing congestion on the bridge.
We encourage public input from everyone on the Bay Crossing Study Tier 1 DEIS. We are seeking public comment through May 10. Comments may be submitted via mail, email on the project website or by oral testimony. The MDTA is holding public hearings to accept comments with four call-in and two in-person testimony sessions in April, in addition to the Public Hearing Virtual Information Room now available at baycrossingstudy.com. You may call 1-877-249-8370 or email [email protected] if you are unable to access the DEIS online.
Bottom line is, just like many other parts of the state that see high volumes of traffic — I-495, I-270, I-95, I-695 etc. — there is simply too much traffic traveling over the Bay Bridge. Our analysis shows that without an additional crossing, by 2040 we will see seven hours of unacceptable level of service per day on non-summer weekdays and 22 hours of unacceptable level of service per day on summer weekends.
In 2040, there will be almost 17,000 additional vehicles per summer weekend day and almost 16,000 additional vehicles per non-summer weekday travelling over the Bay Bridge.
As stewards of Maryland’s toll facilities, it is the MDTA’s responsibility to follow a transportation planning process that involves assessing our existing infrastructure and planning for the future.
Therefore, the study’s Purpose and Need is focused on analyzing options that would result in additional capacity and access across the Chesapeake Bay, improving mobility, reliability and safety at the Bay Bridge, while also considering financial viability and environmental responsibility. A solution that does not improve conditions at the Bay Bridge would neither fulfill the identified needs nor bring relief to Anne Arundel or Queen Anne’s counties.
Recently, some have questioned the integrity of the study’s traffic analyses and have referenced a report that has apparently been commissioned by the Queen Anne’s Conservation Association and prepared by AKRF. This report has not been provided to the MDTA, and therefore we cannot comment on the study’s methodology or conclusions. However, we welcome receiving the study and all other comments during the public review period.
The public should be aware that the bay crossing study relied upon a rigorous and thorough analysis that included population and employment forecasts from the Baltimore Metropolitan Council and Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments land-use models. These forecasts were developed by BMC and MWCOG based on input from their member jurisdictions, including Anne Arundel and Queen Anne’s counties, through a cooperative process.
The standard transportation planning practice is to collect traffic volume data under “normal” or “typical” conditions to verify that the data is not out-of-the-ordinary and to use that data for analyses. In the case of the study, the MDTA recognized that summer weekend conditions are very different from non-summer weekday conditions. Thus, data was collected for both types of conditions.
The Bay Bridge traffic volumes used in the study were collected over multiple days in 2017. We used a full week for both non-summer conditions during April and summer conditions during August, to make sure that we fully considered a broad range of both weekday and weekend conditions. The 2017 volumes show that Bay Bridge volumes on an average summer weekend day were higher than the volumes on an average non-summer weekday.
Every action the MDTA has taken, including our traffic analyses, has been in accordance with the federal process and longtime federally accepted practices laid out in NEPA.
Moving forward, in winter 2021-2022, the MDTA and Federal Highway Administration plan to issue a combined Tier 1 Final Environmental Impact Statement/Record of Decision that summarizes and responds to comments received during the DEIS comment period and identify the Selected Corridor Alternative.
This document is the last formal step in the Tier 1 NEPA process. If funding were to become available, a future Tier 2 study could be initiated to identify specific alignment alternatives within the two-mile-wide Selected Corridor Alternative that was identified during Tier 1.
— JAMES F. PORTS JR.
The writer is the executive director of the Maryland Transportation Authority.