No Bike Path for New Nice/Middleton Bridge

    Maryland Transportation Secretary Pete K. Rahn. File photo

    The Maryland Transportation Authority approved a replacement for the bridge that carries U.S. 301 traffic over the Potomac River on Thursday.

    The authority’s board approved a $463 million contract with a joint venture headed by a Swedish firm — Skanska-Corman-McLean. The price represents a dramatic reduction from the estimate state officials offered previously, approximately $780 million.

    The authority rejected a request from Charles County leaders to include a barrier-separated bike and pedestrian path. The day before the vote, Maryland’s U.S. senators — Chris Van Hollen (D) and Benjamin L. Cardin (D) — urged the board to include a separate bike path. The lawmakers said they would be willing to work with the state in a pursuit of federal funds for the project.

    The current Gov. Harry W. Nice/Sen. Thomas “Mac” Middleton Bridge was built in 1940 and is nearing the end of its structural life. It has just two lanes and is under-equipped to handle the 18,000 motorists who cross the span every day. The replacement will have four lanes and two two-foot shoulders, which officials said would make travel safer for motorists.

    “We’re implementing a major infrastructure project that’s affordable, invests in safety and will improve our citizens’ quality of life…” said MdTA Chairman and Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) Secretary Pete K. Rahn.

    The bridge connects Southern Maryland with King George County, Va. The Virginia Department of Transportation has agreed to contribute $13 million to the project.

    “Virginia’s collaboration with Maryland on the Nice-Middleton Bridge illustrates how important cooperation is to creating seamless travel in the region,” said Virginia Secretary of Transportation Shannon Valentine in a statement. “The connectivity improvements on Route 301 will serve citizens and provide more reliable travel along this essential corridor.”

    The height of the new span will accommodate tall vessels, and it will have all-electronic (cashless) tolling. The bridge will last 100 years, officials believe.

    When he announced plans to build a new bridge, Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) said a barrier separated bike and pedestrian lane would be included. Biking advocates expressed disappointment in the reversal.

    “There are no new bridges being built in the country that don’t have a barrier-separated bike and pedestrian path,” said Eric Brenner, a Hogan appointee to the state’s Bike/Pedestrian Advisory Committee who resigned his position as chairman in July to protest the state’s U-turn on the Nice Bridge.

    Other states “are recognizing the desire for increased recreational use and changing transportation patterns,” Brenner said.

    He noted that MdTA’s press release on the bridge appeared on Page 2 of a notice regarding approval of a new toll collection plan.

    “They don’t want to talk about this,” he said.

    Authority officials said they “had previously offered to make repairs to the bridge and turn it over to Charles County for a pedestrian/bicycle crossing, but county officials declined the offer. Due to Charles County’s decision, the existing bridge now will be demolished as part of this approved contract.”

    Materials from the demolished bridge will be used to create an artificial fish reef.

    Construction will begin in early 2020 and will create more than 500 jobs. The new bridge is expected to open by 2023.

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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.