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Transportation

Federal Government Releases $200 Million in Stalled Bridge Funds

The new Nice/Middleton Bridge in Southern Maryland and the existing span of the same name. Maryland Transportation Authority image.

The U.S. Department of Transportation has given final approval to a $200-million loan that Maryland officials have been counting on to finish a major bridge project.

The low-interest loan, from the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) program, will help the state complete the new Nice/Middleton Bridge.

Construction on the $636-million span began in July, 2020 and is 72% complete, according to the Maryland Transportation Authority (MDTA).

The 1.7-mile Potomac River span will link Newburg, in Charles County, with King George County, Va. It is being built alongside the existing Nice/Middletown Bridge, built in the 1940s, and is expected to open in early 2023.

In December, top MDTA officials told the agency’s board of directors that the loan was “stalled” and in “significant jeopardy.” They said the delay appeared to be tied to safety concerns related to the state’s decision not to build a dedicated bike and pedestrian path on the new span.

When Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) announced plans to replace the bridge in 2016, he pledged there would be a separate  shared lane for bicyclists and pedestrians. Later, those plans were dropped in a cost-cutting move, (over the objections of biking enthusiasts. Officials say they have invested $2 million on signage to make cycling safe in the car lanes.

At December’s briefing, MDTA’s chief financial officer said that if the loan did not come through, the agency would be forced to scramble for another source of funds.

In a statement, State Transportation Secretary James F. Ports Jr., head of the MDTA board, said the loan is “a great example of how Maryland, working in collaboration with our federal partners, can leverage limited resources to improve infrastructure and grow jobs.”

According to an MDTA news release issued on Thursday, federal approval of the loan came through on March 15.