ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — Gov. Larry Hogan on Tuesday announced a $5 million study to explore a potential new Chesapeake Bay crossing.
The study will begin this fall and take up to four years to finish. It will identify the location of a crossing and possible funding options.
The study is needed, Hogan said, because already challenging traffic congestion is only expected to get worse on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, which is the only bridge over the nation's largest estuary that connects the state's eastern and western shores.
The governor said the Maryland Transportation Authority completed a life-cycle analysis on the bridge last year and found it can be safely maintained until 2065, but he said it's time to start planning.
"The analysis indicates that by 2040 daily backups in the eastbound direction could extend up to 13 miles during the summer months and westbound backups could extend up to 14 miles," Hogan said at a news conference with the nearly 5-mile-long bridge in the backdrop.
Last week, the authority approved the Tier 1 National Environmental Policy Act study. It requires state and federal agencies to consider environmental consequences of proposed projects as part of the decision-making process.
"We will seek input from the counties and from the environmental regulatory agencies, and we will actively engage Marylanders by providing plenty of opportunities for public input throughout the process," Hogan, a Republican, said.
Sen. James Mathias, a Democrat and former mayor of Ocean City, said it's critical to plan ahead.
"What it does is it tells the folks that we are making investments for the future, for the Eastern Shore, for their safety and their ease," Mathias said.
The current, dual-span bridge opened in 1952 as a two-lane structure. The parallel structure opened in June 1973 and has three lanes. During periods of heavy eastbound traffic, one lane of the westbound bridge is reserved to carry eastbound travelers. Mathias said switching the traffic flow like that has given rise to some safety concerns.
The governor also announced a new state license plate that will feature Maryland's flag. The Maryland Department of Transportation's Motor Vehicle Administration will start issuing the new plate on Monday, Sept. 26 for all passenger cars, SUVs, trucks, motorcycles and multipurpose vehicles.