Building a Better Bridge

Wikipedia photo of Johnson Bridge: By Pubdog (talk), Public Domain,

By Molly Weeks Crumbley

On Monday, May 23, elected officials representing Calvert and St. Mary’s counties converged in Solomons to discuss the future of the Thomas Johnson Bridge. Built in 1977, the two-lane bridge connects the two counties on each side of the Patuxent River and is traversed by over 30,000 drivers each day. According to the state of Maryland, it is also one of the state’s bridges to receive a “poor” rating.

According to the 2020 Transportation Priorities report generated by the Calvert County government, traffic has increased exponentially. In 1990, it was used daily by 12,900 vehicles, a number that has more than doubled thanks to increases in industry and residential areas on both sides of the river.

“When this bridge was constructed, it was never intended to have that many vehicles go over it,” said state Sen. Jack Bailey.

Congressman Steny Hoyer agreed, adding, “This is a wonderful spot and this is a wonderful bridge. It simply is not up to present day demands.” He estimated building a new four lane bridge will cost approximately $600-$700 million.

All the elected officials present seemed to be in agreement that a complete replacement is the best course of action. Bailey recalled his time working as a national resource officer in 1988, when the bridge had to be closed for significant foundational repairs. At that time, the bridge was only 11 years old when it was discovered that cracks had formed in many of the vertical piers. The bridge had to be closed to traffic for months to make repairs and add steel reinforcement, forcing commuters miles out of their way and forcing the air base and power plant to create different evacuation routes and emergency plans. “It’s critical to our work force.  It’s also critical to our safety,” said Del. Rachel Jones. “It’s too late for more patches or small fixes. We need a new bridge.”

Three of the major employers straddling the two sides of the bridge also happen to be facilities requiring reliable means of transport and safe evacuation routes: Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Power Plant, the Cove Point Liquid Natural Gas import terminal, and the Naval Air Station Patuxent River in St. Mary’s.

“All three of those are national security interests,” said Hoyer. “Not just Calvert, not just St. Mary’s—they are national interests and they require national attention.”

Sen. Ben Cardin addressed the security issue as well. “It is critically important for our national security,” he said. “We need to make sure our infrastructure is up to the task.” He shared several sources of funding that have been earmarked for the task, including a bipartisan federal funding package that will allot $4.1 billion to the state of Maryland for roads and highways. An additional $408 million in funds for the maintenance and replacement of bridges has also been identified, with Sen. Van Hollen and Gov. Larry Hogan earmarking funds. “We’re using every available means that we have in order to assist and be a strong federal partner in getting this done,” said Cardin.

“I hope to live to see this bridge be replaced,” said Calvert County Commissioner Earl “Buddy” Hance. “It’s a vital thing between Calvert and St. Mary’s County that we can’t live without.”

St. Mary’s County Commissioner and Chairperson of the Tri-County Council Todd Morgan may have summed up everyone’s remarks the best. “The important thing to understand is that everyone has talked about safety, has talked about security, and has talked about infrastructure. At this point in time, it’s time to build the damn bridge.”