Bridge plans expand

New alternative path to Thomas Johnson Bridge plan proposed

Friday, June 13, 2008

Another alternative to where to put a new bridge to replace the one linking Solomons to St. Mary’s County has emerged.

The path for this one would go down Patuxent Boulevard in St. Mary’s, through private property just south of Myrtle Point Park and over the Patuxent River to Point Patience where the Navy has a recreation center in Solomons.

More detailed proposals to either replace or add to the Gov. Thomas Johnson Memorial Bridge will be available this month for public review as the State Highway Administration’s study of the bridge continues.

The process is a year and a half old and now more detailed paths have been drawn, including this newest one.

That route would be the most expensive of the proposals on the table and would take as many as seven existing homes. Using this route the bridge project could cost $700 million in today’s dollars, Michael Perrotta, consultant for SHA, told the St. Mary’s County commissioners Tuesday, June 2. SHA officials spoke to commissioners in St. Mary’s last week and Calvert this week.

‘‘It’s going to be a costly bridge, we know that,” he said, and only planning funds are available right now. No construction money has been allocated.

One advantage of this newest proposal is that the bridge wouldn’t need to be so high, which would reduce the cost. The existing bridge soars 140 feet over the river to make room for Navy vessels underneath.

The state is waiting for the U.S. Coast Guard to determine if a new bridge needs to be that tall. Perrotta and the Navy met Tuesday afternoon to get federal reaction to the proposal over the recreation center.

Other alternatives include a replacement bridge 50 to 70 feet south of the existing structure, which would cost between $620 million and $645 million, Perrotta said. Adding a parallel span to the existing bridge would cost between $440 million and $465 million, he said.

A replacement bridge would have 10-foot shoulders for emergency vehicles instead of the 1- to 2-foot shoulders there now. The entire width of a new four-lane bridge would be 95 feet instead of the existing 28 feet.

The existing bridge was opened in December 1977 and had to be closed down for three months for structural flaws in the summer of 1988.

Traffic around the Route 4⁄Route 235 intersection, which serves the bridge on the St. Mary’s side, now ranges from 40,000 to 55,000 vehicles a day and the traffic signal there operates at failing levels in the morning and evening rush hours.

According to SHA data, major intersections on the St. Mary’s side of the bridge are already failed or one grade above and all of them will be failed by 2030; ‘‘failed” means ‘‘long delays and high levels of congestion.”

‘‘This is the gist of why we need to look now at potential solutions for the future,” SHA District Engineer Greg Welker told the Calvert County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday.

After the presentation, Commissioner Jerry Clark (R) asked that the bridge be structured to make entering and leaving Solomons from the bridge easier than it is now.

‘‘We’ve only got one shot and we need to make sure we’ve got it right the first time,” Clark said.

Welker said that Solomons traffic would be a consideration but that ‘‘if we move that traffic, where we move it to still has to function safely and efficiently also.”

Welker also emphasized that Southern Marylanders will still be wrestling with the sometimes horrific traffic across the bridge for the near future.

‘‘Do we have a timeline on this? I mean, other than after I’m dead and buried?” Commissioner Linda Kelley (R) asked.

‘‘We’re probably at least 10 years away from a new bridge,” Welker said.

But it’s important to the region and a focus of the Tri-County Council for Southern Maryland, commissioners’ President Wilson Parran said.

‘‘It’s a high priority for Southern Maryland to move this along,” he said.