U.S. Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin urged Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. on Thursday to include a protected bike and pedestrian lane on the new Gov. Harry W. Nice Memorial/Sen. Thomas “Mac” Middleton Bridge.
In a letter to the governor, Cardin (D-Md.) wrote, “Such a trail would substantially expand the bridge’s benefits for our economy and our transportation networks.”
The lawmaker, a senior member of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, pledged to help the state try to secure federal funds to build a bike and pedestrian lane that is separate from traffic.
When he announced plans to replace the current span in 2016, Hogan (R) pledged that the new bridge would have four lanes and a separate trail for non-vehicular traffic.
The state later quietly pulled back from that commitment.
The current U.S. 301 span, which connects Charles County, Md., with King George County, Va., was built in 1940 and has just two lanes. It is widely considered to be outdated, dangerous and inadequate for the amount of traffic it handles.
Recently, an influential regional transportation panel chafed at the state’s request to approve the new project without a firm commitment to include a separate bike/pedestrian lane. Maryland Department of Transportation Deputy Secretary R. Earl Lewis Jr. told the Transportation Planning Board a decision will be made after bids come in.
He said the state will build dedicated bicycle and walking lanes if they are “affordable.” He refused to be more specific. The state has many transportation priorities but limited resources, he said.
The controversy divided the panel, which voted 17-7 to advance the project, a rare split for an organization that seeks consensus wherever possible.
In a news release, Cardin urged Hogan to “honor the state’s original commitment.”
“I understand that funding large infrastructure projects such as this one presents a challenge, and I am eager to partner with you to meet this challenge,” Cardin wrote. “Failure to expend every reasonable effort to deliver this bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure as part of a new … bridge would be to pass up a key opportunity to shape our transportation system of the future.”
James F. Ports Jr., executive director of the Maryland Transportation Authority, told Maryland Matters, “We’d be more than happy to work with the senator in finding additional federal funds to complete some of the work.”
“We are bidding [the project] both ways,” Ports said. “We’re bidding it with an extra lane for pedestrians and bicycles, and without. And from there we’ll determine how it’ll move forward.”