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Volume 15, Issue 20 ~ May 17 - May 23, 2007


Chesapeake Challenge: A Way Across It

Last week’s tragic Chesapeake Bay Bridge accident was just that: an accident. Accidentally, it shined the spotlight on one of our region’s biggest vulnerabilities.

But given our development trends and transportation needs, we’re hoping that planners will hear a call to action in the protracted bridges shutdown.

Long-range planning is hard even to think about, let alone carry out. Part of that has to do with our Just Do It cultural archetype. We prize action; we don’t care much for contemplating the consequences of our actions. We especially like such decisiveness from our leaders, though we don’t like paying the price when consequences get out of control.

Now and again, our national genius takes us to the stars as problems that seem too big to manage inspire our ingenuity. Think of the Manhattan Project; indeed, the whole World War II mobilization. Think of space flight and Social Security.

Now it’s time to think of crossing Chesapeake Bay.

The first Bay Bridge opened on July 30, 1952. The second east-bound span — site of the May 10 catastrophe — on June 28, 1973. At 34 years old, even the newer bridge was built for a future that has long since passed us — as more and more of us live closer to the water, commute farther and drive more cars. The new future — and troubling present — is punishing congestion and the potential, as we saw last week, of not being able to get there from here. Or here from there.

Way back then, Maryland had plans to build two more Chesapeake Bay bridges. The Northern Bay Bridge would have run from Miller Island, near Edgemere in Baltimore County, to Tolchester Beach in Kent County. The Southern Bay Bridge was planned from Lusby, in Calvert County, to Dorchester County. But the not-in-my-backyard thinking blocked both.

Which is how we’ve come to here, vulnerable and already near gridlock with no plans for a future that’s certain to be more congested.

We urge a new public effort scheduled to report on May 10, 2008, one year from the date in which three people died on the Bay Bridge — with a short list of proposals for how to connect our Western and Eastern shores.

Here at Bay Weekly, we promise to keep finding A Way Across It a hot issue.

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