True confession: until my recent retirement I was one of those drivers who followed my GPS and used the backroads of Kent Island to jockey around traffic at the Chesapeake Bay Bridge. My justification was that I was a local (Queenstown), but the reality was that my timing was always tight for meetings or picking up my daughter from daycare. Now that I am retired, I force myself to obey the signage and just sit in traffic. I use the time to call friends or look for birds.
Summer 2023 has been brutal for Bay Bridge backups. I have heard it described as “Thursdays are the new Fridays,” “west bound is as bad as eastbound,” and “forget about crossing if there is rain or wind or an accident.” The bridge traffic misery index for Eastern Shore folks is definitely way up.
Should we support building a new Chesapeake Bay bridge – presumably at the current bridge location? I think that reasonable minds can be for and against. Personally, I am against a new Bay Bridge. My reasons start with pollution of the Chesapeake Bay and sprawl on the Eastern Shore. But I also see a new bridge as an overly expensive and temporary solution for a complex regional problem demanding future learning and innovative solutions.
In the short term, we need choices and incentives which encourage efficient use of the current bridges. As individuals, we should avoid backups whenever possible by using phone apps like Google maps and Waze. During backups grab a coffee at Yo Java Bowl in Chester and get some work done. Governments should be using accepted tools like congestion tolling (higher tolls during high demand), high occupancy vehicle incentives and telework policies. Governments should also explore innovations already in use elsewhere including real time management of contra flow lanes and access limits for the entire congestion corridor.
Over the long term, we must take a much harder look at mass transit alternatives, and look beyond our borders for partners and solutions. A decade ago, I understood that high speed rail up and over the Bay on existing tracks in Delaware (with upgrades) could get passengers to the beaches from Baltimore in under an hour. There are other transit solutions similar to rail emerging around the world. These future leaning solutions are much more expandable as demand rises, are solid wins for climate change, and are better suited for our children who are increasingly urban and proudly car free.
Please don’t judge me for peacefully sitting in Bay Bridge traffic. I know this is a luxury of retirement, and one that few can afford. But if you are not fighting a time crunch, take a deep breath and look around at our beautiful Bay, and think about what this scene might look like through the eyes of our grandchildren.
NOTE: The Md. Transportation Authority is hosting several open houses for public comment on the new Chesapeake Crossing. Please let your voices be heard. See: www.baycrossingstudy.com.
Rob Etgen retired in 2021 after a 40 year career in conservation – the last 31 years as President of Eastern Shore Land Conservancy. In retirement Rob is enjoying family and working on global and local sustainability issues with Council Fire consulting out of Annapolis.