Thursday, August 29, 2019

Another Bay bridge is insanity

It so happened that the shortlist of options for another Bay crossing along with Governor Hogan's stated preference were announced on the same day Greta Thunberg arrived in the US sailing from Europe. She is the 16 year old climate activist who founded the international high school student movement Friday's for Future.
Greta Thunberg, climate activivist arrives in NYC (NYT)

This coincidence highlights better than anything how stuck in an almost forgotten past our Governor and his transportation Secretary are; how entirely unencumbered by any insight or thought the idea is to build another bridge crossing.

A new bridge isn't just a wasteful boondoggle, it would create irreparable damage to all the systems that are already teetering at the brink. It is irresponsible of  Maryland's transportation officials to have even kicked off a planning process for this ill fated idea and wasting valuable planning dollars on it, even though the realization of such a project would be far beyond the the point this government is in office.
More roadways to the shore? Full steam into the 1950s (SUN photo)

The additional Bay bridge idea is nothing than an extrapolation of the policies of the 1950's, the time when the first span was built in 1952. Eeven the second span, opening in 1973, seemed awkwardly out of its time when it fell into the same year as the OPEC oil embargo that became since known as America's first oil shock.  (Two more followed but had no impact on many decision makers, a fact Ms Thunberg never tires to point out. Especially Maryland's transportation officials have not learned these lessons since then:

  • The bridge and the added span have opened the Eastern shore to unprecedented sprawl and destruction of valuable farmlands. By now it takes a full 10 miles to get out of the jumble of gas stations, fast food places and shopping centers lining a bloated US50 before one can even get a sense of the Eastern Shore landscapes. Vulnerable coastal wetlands near Stevensville and Chestertown have been paved over, sprawl mansions sit were framers once tended to fields.
  • All the new capacity and development has added congestion not relieved it. Now many people think nothing of it to live on the Eastern Shore and work in Annapolis, Baltimore or DC, a completely unsustainable commute.
  • Sprawl, development and endless promotion of a quick journey to the beach brought about more driving, more gasoline consumption and more air pollution, all premier contributors to climate change, the very issue threatening the Eastern Shore more than most other landscapes in the United States
  • Added capacity can come in other ways than building more road lanes: New technologies will bring to better manage existing road-space with less congestion. It is estimated that autonomous connected vehicles of all types will increase existing roadway capacity in freeway conditions by at least 30%, just about what a new bridge span would provide. This in itself could spell calamity if not properly managed. But this and a third span is  lunacy. No matter who does the forecasting, those autonomous vehicles will be certainly everyday occurrence by the time a new bridge would be complete.
  • More access points to the Eastern Shore can dilute the negative impacts if they are done by lower capacity solutions such as hybrid ferries.
    Gas shortages in 1973: Even two oil shocks are not  enough
No matter where the location [of a bridge], make no mistake, it will have an impact on the entire Eastern Shore. What is at stake is the Eastern Shore’s quality of life, heritage, and highly productive farmland. Should Kent County be the selected location, our small agrarian rural county with the smallest population and landmass in Maryland would be swamped with traffic and our open space littered with fast food chains. Our unique identity would be ended. (Op-Ed, Chestertown)
Defying all those reasons, the juggernaut of a transportation study will run its course, once it is kicked loose. It will be the duty of any responsible citizen who cares about the environment, about climate change, or about fiscal responsibility to come out (see meeting info here) and tell this administration that the study has to be stopped. The old mantra of unfettered growth, no matter what kind, and no matter how damaging, has to come to an end.
Reach the beach come hell or highwater: MDOT corridor alternatives
Funded by toll dollars, the Bay Crossing Study Tier 1 began in 2016 and is expected to be complete in 2021. The next steps are to publish a Draft Environmental Impact Statement and hold public hearings in fall 2020. The final steps are to identify the preferred corridor alternative and publish the Final Environmental Impact Statement/Record of Decision in collaboration with FHWA in summer 2021. (MDOT website)
Greta Thunberg, still essentially a child,  sailed over the ocean to tell the adults to finally grow up and plan for her generation and those following her. There is hardly anybody who needs to hear her message more than Larry Hogan and his MDOT Secretary Rahn. 

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

Related posts on this blog:

How the State gets to spend $1.1 billion on I-95 toll lanes

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