Lawsuit seeks to halt demolition of old Nice Bridge as new bridge set to open Wednesday

The new Nice-Middleton Bridge over the Potomac River connecting Maryland and Virginia is scheduled to open on Wednesday. But a group of biking and outdoor enthusiasts is saying that as the new bridge goes up, the old bridge does not have to come down — and they filed a lawsuit in federal court to halt the planned demolition.

The new bridge’s opening date emerged after three trail groups — Potomac Heritage Trail Association, Dahlgren Railroad Heritage Trail Inc. and Oxon Road Bicycle and Trail Club — asked the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland for an injunction and temporary restraining order on the demolition of the old Harry Nice Memorial/Thomas Middleton Bridge, first reported by The Free Lance-Star.

The demolition of the old bridge is scheduled to begin in earnest on Thursday, the same day the new bridge is scheduled to be fully open to vehicular traffic. A court hearing on the temporary restraining order is scheduled for Tuesday.

The trail and biking groups want to keep the old bridge as a way to link bike routes in the southern part of Maryland to Virginia and also as a pedestrian path.

A ribbon-cutting has been scheduled on Wednesday and officials, including Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, have been invited, but the The Free Lance-Star reported that nothing has been posted on the Maryland Transportation Authority’s (MDTA) website about the opening. The bridge was originally scheduled to open early 2023.

The new span is scheduled to open to traffic Thursday.

The trail groups alleged that MDTA, as well as the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration, violated the National Environmental Policy Act and other federal and state environmental laws, particularly when it came to the use of explosives. This is the second lawsuit the group has filed since September to block the old bridge’s demolition.

The trail groups countered that the transportation agencies do not have the necessary permits to destroy the old bridge. Brian Wolfe, the director of project development at MDTA, said in court documents that whether to use underwater explosives is still under consideration and no permits for those have been submitted or obtained.

Transportation agencies named in the suit said that the trail groups’ plan for the old bridge is “unworkable, unaffordable, and unsafe,” court documents said. They accuse the groups of “having manufactured urgency by waiting until the last possible moment” to ask the court to delay the demolition, which they say could cost up to $21,500 per day or more.

Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot asked during a Board of Public Works Meeting in August why there was a rush to demolish the old bridge.

Maryland Transportation Secretary James F. Ports pointed to the cost of maintaining the bridge and said that there have been attempts to turn the bridge over to jurisdictions in Maryland and Virginia, which after analyses, declined to undertake it.

Wolfe said that the estimated cost of inspecting, repairing and maintaining the old bridge “runs to the tens of millions of dollars and would require redesign of the existing roadways.”

Earlier plans for the new bridge included a proposal for a barrier-separated bike and pedestrian path. However, a reevaluation of the plan and design in 2019 did not include the separated path.

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.

Abigail Constantino

Abigail Constantino started her journalism career writing for a local newspaper in Fairfax County, Virginia. She is a graduate of American University and The George Washington University.

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