Old Harry Nice Bridge demolition can proceed, judge rules

It’s a big decision coming down to the very last minute: Whether to tear down a bridge connecting Charles County, Maryland with King George County Virginia.

On Tuesday, a federal judge in Baltimore ruled demolition of the Old Harry Nice Bridge can proceed. The judge hearing this case called it important, adding that it raises matters of public concern, but said they didn’t meet the high bar required to stop the destruction of the bridge.

Timing was a word that kept coming up over and over. After Tuesday's hearing, a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new bridge is scheduled for Wednesday. On Thursday, the new bridge opens, and the demolition begins in earnest.

As FOX 5 previously reported, outdoor advocates and bicycling groups tried to stop the Old Harry Nice Bridge from being demolished by suing several Maryland agencies, as well as the U.S. Department of Transportation.

The advocates want to keep the old bridge for cyclists and pedestrians after protected lanes were scrapped from the initial plans for the new bridge.

They believed they had public input and there was transparency, but that all changed in 2019 when they weren’t kept in the loop about a decision to eliminate protected bike and pedestrian lanes.

"It just wasn’t there, especially from 2019," said David Brinkley, president of the Dahlgren Railroad Heritage Trail Association. "I think the citizens are going to look back at this, 10, 15, 20, 50 years from now and say ‘what a poor decision.’"

The last-minute effort was a plea to stop demolition of the old bridge by arguing the proper environmental studies hadn’t been done. Thomas Prevas represented the groups trying to stop the destruction.

Regardless of where you are, Prevas encourages governments to be transparent about plans for projects and Brinkley says to demand transparency.

"It just means that citizens need to be as vigilant as ever to see what the government is doing, or what the government is not telling you that they’re doing," Brinkley said. 

"Get in front of these things as early as possible to speak to the public about what you plan to do," Prevas added. "When you make changes, be clear or transparent and talk to the public about this, and really get people to understand and study them the way the federal government requires you to do."

The Maryland Transportation Authority issued the following statement to FOX 5: 

"We appreciate the court’s ruling today recognizing the facts of this case and denying the request for a temporary restraining order for the demolition of the existing Nice/Middleton Bridge. We thank the court for its time and consideration."