Maryland board approves building new $765 million Harry Nice Bridge

NEWBURG, Md. (AP) -- A Maryland board voted Monday to build a new, $765 million Gov. Harry W. Nice Bridge over the Potomac River connecting Maryland and Virginia.

Under the plan approved by the Maryland Transportation Authority Board, construction is to begin in fiscal year 2020. The current bridge, which carries Route 301 over the river, will be torn down. The new bridge is slated to be completed in 2023.

"This 75-year-old bridge has only one narrow lane in each direction, and citizens here often face up to four-mile backups during the summer months and more significant delays from just one disabled vehicle or during routine maintenance projects," Gov. Larry Hogan said after the board's vote by the water's edge. "Simply put, Marylanders deserve better."

Plans call for building a new four-lane bridge about 100 feet north of the current bridge. It will include a bike and pedestrian path, Hogan said. The bridge connects Charles County in Maryland and King George County in Virginia.

The project would be funded with Maryland Transportation Authority cash as well as debt.

The Republican governor and the Democrat-controlled legislature have battled over transportation issues over the first half the Hogan's first term.

In this year's legislative session, lawmakers passed a bill to require the transportation authority to put aside $75 million each year from fiscal year 2018 through 2027 to pay for a new bridge. Hogan vetoed the bill, saying the administration already was moving forward with a plan. But the General Assembly passed the measure with enough votes to override the veto when lawmakers return in January.

On Monday, Hogan said the administration's proposal would complete the bridge seven years earlier and save about $200 million. The governor said he will be working to prevent an override of his veto. He also said he also will work to repeal another contentious transportation bill passed by the legislature -- one that requires a scoring system to rank transportation priorities.

"Both of them were terrible mistakes on the part of the legislature and I'm sure they're sorry they enacted both of them," Hogan said.

Alexandra Hughes, a spokeswoman for House Speaker Michael Busch, said the bridge project was dead, until two Democrats pushed for legislation to require the governor to pay for a new bridge.

"The irony is if Governor Hogan had been willing to work with the elected officials in Southern Maryland during the legislative session, we could have worked in a bipartisan fashion without worrying about who gets credit, when everyone's goal is the safety and modernization of this bridge," Hughes said.

Sen. Thomas "Mac" Middleton, a Charles County Democrat who sponsored the legislation, said he was thankful that the project will be funded.

"From the bottom of our hearts, thank you very much," Middleton told the board after its vote.