Searching for a new way across the bay


December 18, 2005

In 1952, Maryland's two kingdoms were joined when the original, 4.3-mile Chesapeake Bay Bridge - officially called the William Preston Lane Jr. Memorial Bridge - replaced two ferries that took two hours to cross the bay from a point near Annapolis to the Eastern Shore.

Not surprisingly, traffic jams quickly ensued, and by 1973 a three-lane parallel structure was opened to relieve the pressure.

Later in the 1970s there was talk about building two more Chesapeake Bay bridges - a Northern Bay Bridge from Miller Island near Edgemere in Baltimore County to Tolchester Beach in Kent County, and a Southern Bay Bridge from Lusby in Calvert County to Taylors Island in Dorchester County.

But in 1978, the state legislature passed a law requiring approval from any county a new bridge would cross. Since then, local opposition from every potentially affected county has effectively blocked any talk of new bridges.

Weekend traffic on the five lanes of the two bridges is expected to increase from its current 95,000 vehicles a day to 135,000 by 2025 - a number that has traffic engineers contemplating devastating traffic jams on and around the bridges.

With that in mind, a state panel was appointed last summer to identify four possible new bridge paths.

So far, the group has made little progress. Nobody - north or south - wants a six-lane bridge in their back yard.

If a new bridge is commissioned, there is a good chance it will look a lot like the recently opened eight-lane Cooper River Bridge in Charleston, S.C., the largest cable span bridge in North America - built with a modern single stay cable system that would minimize its footprint on either shore.

The Charleston bridge reaches 1,546 feet across the Cooper River - creating a horizontal navigational clearance just 46 feet wider than the Bay Bridge.

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