Volume 13, Issue 29 ~ July 21-27, 2005

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Burton on The Bay
By Bill Burton

A Bridge to Sprawl
A cautionary tale of how the Bay Bridges changed the Eastern Shore

According to the daily press, it will probably be another quarter-century before that bridge is ready to cross, but already a gang of 19 is trying to figure where the next Bay Bridge’s span should be. I doubt that I’ll be around to drive over it, but I’ll tell you this.
That bridge is not only going over troubled waters. It’s also going to stir up an awful lot of mud and muck in the brine beneath it. And that’s not all it will stir up.

Once the politicians, lobbyists and the rest of the know-it-alls get in the act, it’s going to stir up enough controversy that the recent hassle over the Potomac’s Woodrow Wilson Bridge is going to seem like a tea party.

If I happened to be a resident of the Eastern Shore, already I’d be talking once again about seceding from the state of Maryland. Surely, we’re going to be hearing such talk in the years ahead. Another Bay Bridge means the beginning of the end of the Eastern Shore as we know it, which is already a far cry from the Sho’ we knew when the first Baltimore-Ocean City Connection was completed 53 years ago this month.

Another Bay Bridge connecting Western and Eastern Shore, we’re told, will be necessary if we don’t want 12-mile gridlocks as traffic to and from the Sho’ increases more than 40 percent by 2025.
Sho’ No More
I recall listening to my friend and former game warden Dan Hodgman back in the mid 1960s as he griped that the first Bay span was quickly ruining the Eastern Shore’s unique countrified character. As he was living on the shores of the Tred Avon in Talbot County and was setting up shop as a guide, Dan had much to gain via the second Bay span, which was a hot issue at the time.

His clientele, like most everyone else from the Western Shore, didn’t appreciate the traffic woes that developed at the original two-way span. Dan’s father then owned Poplar Island, and he was thinking about guiding waterfowl parties there and on other area properties and also carrying dove-shooting parties. But he said he’d rather do something else to put beans on the table than see more of the Eastern Shore’s heritage turn sour.

Dan had what he figured was the perfect solution. Forget the second Bay Bridge. Sure the traffic jams would get worse, worse enough that many of those of the Western Shore would give up the Bay Bridge hassle, and development on his side of the span would be slowed. For those headed to Ocean City, his solution was a 100-mile expressway from Kent Island to the beach with no exit ramps in between.

So much for Dan’s views. We all know how things turned out. The second and bigger parallel bridge came.
Not If But Where
Now a 19-member task force is in preliminary deliberations concerning not if or when to put a third bridge but where. All other considerations aside, the where is so much more than a tempest in a teapot.

Should another bridge be in proximity to where the other two now stand, which would do little to ease gridlock woes in our county as those from the Washington and suburban areas head for the beach — and development brings more traffic complications to Queen Anne’s County on the other side of the Bay?

It seems another bridge to the north from Baltimore County as suggested in the past would do little to ease the problem associated with the Washington area traffic while certainly boosting further development on the upper Shore’s Kent, Caroline and Queen Anne’s counties.

To build that span more to the south would ease the Washington traffic but certainly open the lower Eastern Shore to development. The Bay narrows considerably in lower Calvert County, and a span from, say, Long Beach toTaylor Island would be of about seven miles. Add to that another 15 miles or so of new highway to Cambridge, and pick up Route 50 to the beach.

Whew, I hate to think of the cost, and not just in dollars. That would bring development big time to rural eastern Dorchester County.
No Turning Back
It all started when that long, thin strand of cement and steel opened with much fanfare in July of 1952 to connect Anne Arundel County with Queen Anne’s County on the Eastern Shore. That was only the beginning.

At the time, most considered the new bridge the gateway to Ocean City. Few envisioned what it really meant: Development would spread to the quaint, quiet and rural Shore, bringing a faster and more complicated way of life that many on this side of the Chesapeake wanted to leave behind when they paid the toll.

They ended up taking with them what they wanted to leave behind. Sprawl. In the middle, geographically, was Chesapeake Bay. From an environmental standpoint, it was also caught in the middle.

When the first motorists passed over the new 4.3-mile William Preston Lane Bridge, four large ferry boats immediately became obsolete, and Maryland’s share of the Delmarva Peninsula was destined for a dramatic change that would have serious and lasting implications for the Chesapeake as well as those living on the Eastern Shore.

There was only one nay vote (from a Talbot County solon) in the General Assembly when final Bay Bridge legislation was debated. It represented progress, sort of a unification of Eastern and Western Shores. Even the legendary conservative lower Shore legislator Sen. Fred Malkus voted for the span.

For the remainder of his life, Sen. Malkus had mixed feelings about the bridge. Not long before he passed away, we crossed paths while checking out aquaculture facilities in Dorchester County. He was a farmer, had the love of the land inherent in all farmers, and had concerns about the future of rural life. Pandora’s box had been opened, he said, and there was no stopping what was ahead.

From an economic standpoint, his beloved Eastern Shore was prospering, but it was at the price of the way of life he and most of his constituents preferred. Land priorities were no longer agriculture, waterfowl, wildlife and wetlands; just development, he told me. He said he was glad he wouldn’t be around in 100 years to see how things ended up, and he wistfully wondered where the muskrats (which he had trapped for years) would go.

There’s no turning the clock back; what’s done is done, and another Bay Bridge regardless of where it’s situated is bound to accelerate not only the development on the other side of the Bay, but on our side also. And, between our side and their side is our already stressed Bay.

At the offset, if that new bridge must come, priorities must be placed on not its traffic flow, but on its consequences via development to the Chesapeake Bay. Enough said.

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