Bike groups sue to block demolition of bridge linking Maryland with Virginia

Bicycle trail advocacy groups have filed a federal lawsuit, trying to prevent Maryland transportation officials from demolishing a bridge across the Potomac River that cyclists say could link bike routes in the southern part of the state to Virginia.

The Maryland Transportation Authority is in the final stages of building a four-lane bridge parallel to the two-lane Gov. Harry W. Nice-Memorial/Sen. Thomas “Mac” Middleton Bridge, which opened in 1940, and carries 7 million vehicles a year on Route 301 between Maryland’s Charles County and Virginia’s King George County.

The Nice-Middleton Bridge is located 60 miles south of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge, the nearest Potomac River crossing.

Original plans for the new bridge included a bicycle and pedestrian path, but that portion of the design was eliminated in 2019. Currently, MTA’s plan calls for the demolition of the old bridge, when the new one is completed.

The lawsuit claims the late change to the plan, and the proposal to demolish the two-lane bridge with explosives, violates state and federal environmental review laws.

The plaintiffs — Potomac Heritage Trail Association, the Dahlgren Railroad Heritage Trail Association and Oxon Hill Bicycle and Trail Club — say removing the trail from the bridge plans amounted to “a bait and switch.”

“Defendants in 2012 promised to construct a bridge with a separated and protected 10-foot path for pedestrian and bicycle traffic on the bridge,” wrote the bike groups. “Studying and selecting one configuration, yet building another violates the Environmental Review Laws, as well as the public trust.”

The lawsuit alleges Maryland and federal transportation agencies are moving forward with a different plan than the one that had been studied: “The form of demolition, whether explosive or otherwise, has not been studied for environmental impact.”

In addition, the suit claims demolishing the bridge that could be used by bicyclists and pedestrians would be inequitable to those living in Charles County, which has a majority 60% minority or nonwhite population.

“Defendants’ choice to delete safe bike and other nonmotorized passage, as well as any pedestrian passage, prevents a majority nonwhite county from walking or biking to … federally-funded resources, including parks, beaches and other well-preserved lands on the majority white side of the Potomac River,” according to the suit.

The groups want time to evaluate how the old bridge could be integrated into its plans to link bike and pedestrian trails in Maryland and Virginia.

Trial and hearing dates have yet to be determined in U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland.

Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a reporter at WTOP since 1997. Through the years, Neal has covered many of the crimes and trials that have gripped the region. Neal's been pleased to receive awards over the years for hard news, feature reporting, use of sound and sports.

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