Nice Bridge widening wins key approval; could lose pedestrian path

Maryland will move forward with rebuilding and widening the Harry W. Nice Memorial/Sen. Thomas “Mac” Middleton Bridge after getting a key approval Wednesday from the region’s Transportation Planning Board.

The approval on an unusually contentious 17-7 vote allows Maryland to move forward with an application for a large low-interest federal loan crucial to the project’s financing plan. It came over concerns that the state has worked to cut a promised bike and pedestrian path from the project.

The Maryland Department of Transportation and Maryland Transportation Authority said the path is still possible when a final contract is awarded this fall, but only if bids from contractors are low enough.

Maryland is now only promising though that bikes will be able to use the bridge in some way — even if it means riding with highway traffic.

harry nice bridge
This May 2014 photo shows the Harry Nice Bridge, which carries U.S. 301 over the Potomac River between Virginia and Maryland. (Courtesy Maryland Transportation Authority)

Charles County Commissioners’ President Reuben Collins pleaded with the state to include the path to help tourism, provide another connection between Maryland and Virginia, and effectively plan for the 100-year life span of the bridge, but said the approval Wednesday was needed to keep the bridge project on track.

“Today, this bridge connects two rural areas in Virginia and Maryland. As our region grows, this area is likely to transform into a walkable, livable community that demands the necessary accommodations for safe travel,” Collins said.

He is hopeful that the state will keep the path in plans.

D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendeslon said it was an abdication of responsibility for the region’s Transportation Planning Board to allow the bridge project to move forward for federal support without the bike path, since the majority wanted the path but many members felt they could not let it get in the way of the bridge project.

The Maryland Department of Transportation and Maryland Transportation Authority promised to continue to look at the possibility of adding the bike path back into the plan, but would not promise anything.

The state will report back by the end of the year.

The project is scheduled to widen the bridge from one highway lane each way today to two lanes each way on a new bridge that will be steeper than the current one.

Construction could start next year and be completed by the mid-2020s.

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