Volume 16, Issue 33 - August 14 - August 20, 2008

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Chesapeake Challenge: A Way Across It (Part II)

The question sounding in Chesapeake Country early this week was: Did you get caught in it?

It was the nightmarish traffic on and around Rt. 50, east and west, after an 18-wheeler plunged off the bridge into Chesapeake Bay early Sunday, killing the driver and injuring motorists in an auto.

No, we didn’t get caught; luckily, we traveled to the Eastern Shore by boat last weekend. But thousands of people did after the eastbound span was closed for 36 hours, turning traffic around Annapolis into something worse than the Beltway at rush hour.

We’ve said this before, after tragic wrecks and bridge calamities elsewhere: We need a public effort with vastly more energy to figure new ways to connect the Bay’s Western and Eastern shores.

The accident last weekend shined a light once more on one of our region’s most pronounced vulnerabilities. And we’re not just talking here about the convenience of beach-goers.

By 2025, the number of cars crossing the Bay Bridge each day is expected to double — to some 230,000 — because so many people are moving to the Eastern Shore.

Stack up those numbers against the reality that the first Bay Bridge opened in 1952 and the second — site of the eastbound tragedy early Sunday — in 1973. Even the newest span was built for a future that has long since passed us.

What to do? Gov. Martin O’Malley has said he opposes a new bridge because of the disruption on the Eastern Shore.

And we have seen way more talk than action on proposals for a ferry system that could at least put a dent in traffic.

There are other concerns: As we saw last weekend, those Jersey barriers are insufficient to keep a careening big-rig on the bridge.

Then there’s the issue of two-way traffic on bridges. After the wreck, AAA Mid-Atlantic pointed out that 70 percent of the fatal crashes on the bridge have occurred when transportation officials were deploying two-way traffic. AAA noted that the two-way strategy probably magnified the severity of the terrible crash in May 2007, when three people died on the bridge.

Of the Rt. 50 gridlock, AAA noted: “gargantuan traffic back-ups are a reminder of just how limited and fragile our current Bay-crossing arrangement really is.”

We agree. For far too long, our political leaders have put off hard bridge decisions directly bearing on our quality of life, as well as on our safety.

More than a year ago (Vol. xv: No. 20: May 17, 2007), we urged a new public effort hoping to achieve some results by May 10, 2008, the one-year anniversary of last year’s terrible bridge crash.

We were mostly ignored in Annapolis. This time, we hope that our leaders will take the plight of our region seriously, and we invite our readers to offer advice to politicians on new ways to cross Chesapeake Bay. Write us at [email protected].

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