55% of Marylanders support Bay Bridge expansion, poll finds

E-ZPass sign approaching Chesapeake Bay Bridge
Traffic backs up before the Chesapeake Bay Bridge on Oct. 18, 2019. (WTOP/Colleen Kelleher)

As headaches continue to mount for drivers who get stuck in traffic trying to cross the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, a new poll finds that a majority of Marylanders support adding a third span.

According to a Washington Post-University of Maryland poll, 55% of state residents favor the idea.

The poll also found that support was widespread throughout Maryland but saw the most support — 6 3% — in Howard and Anne Arundel counties.

The bridge connects Anne Arundel County to Queen Anne County. Earlier this month and in September, Marylanders had the opportunity to review plans for options for a new Bay Bridge span.

Party affiliation wasn’t much a factor: 58% of Republicans back it, as do 53% of Democrats and 57% of Independents.

Fewer — 51% — are behind Gov. Larry Hogan’s plan to add express toll lanes to Interstate 270 and the part of the Capital Beltway that lies within Maryland’s borders.

In Prince George’s and Montgomery counties, where the highways are located, that support tumbles to a combined 45%.

Hogan has proposed some fixes for the troubled Bay Bridge but notes that gridlock won’t “magically disappear.”

He has said he’s “furious” about severe traffic gridlock caused by a two-year repair project but added that delaying the work could lead to “catastrophic” and potentially life-threatening safety risks.

Hogan spoke at a Maryland Board of Public Works meeting Oct. 16, several weeks after the $27 million project began.

The Bay Bridge first opened in 1952 and the second span was added in 1973. Hogan said “critical maintenance and necessary repairs” have been put off for at least a decade, leaving the bridge in rough shape and causing “tremendous safety problems.”

The deck surface on the westbound lane of the bridge is deteriorated beyond the end of its service life, Hogan said. In one section of the lane, 75% of the area is deteriorated, he said.

“The condition is worsening every single day,” Hogan said. “If neglected any longer, the crisis could go from terrible and unbearable, to catastrophic and life-threatening.”

Part of the challenge in coming up with solutions to ease the gridlock is that fixes in one area can cause spillover problems in neighboring jurisdictions.

In the first few weeks of the bridge project, massive backups in Anne Arundel County, for example, led the Maryland Transportation Authority to institute what’s known as “contraflow” to reverse lanes on the bridge. While that did relieve traffic in Anne Arundel County, it caused gridlock on the Eastern Shore.

Among the efforts, Hogan said he is tasking traffic engineers to negotiate with local officials to find solutions that “share the pain” and don’t “unfairly target one side or the other.”

Speaking alongside Hogan at the board meeting, State Comptroller Peter Franchot again renewed his call for state officials to temporarily halt the work to give planners more time to come up with traffic-mitigation strategies.

“Simply put, what we have right now is unacceptable,” he said.

At a Board of Public Works meeting earlier this month, Maryland Transportation Secretary Pete Rahn apologized over his department’s handling of the project.

WTOP’s Jack Moore contributed to this report.

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Will Vitka

William Vitka is a Digital Editor and reporter for WTOP.com. He's been in the news industry for over a decade. Before joining WTOP, he worked for CBS News, Stuff Magazine, The New York Post and wrote a variety of books—about a dozen of them, with more to come.

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