With a threatened federal loan, cyclists claim a reserved lane on the Md. Nice bridge

A federal loan that Maryland is counting on to finance the new Nice / Middleton bridge is under threat as U.S. Department of Transportation officials worry about the safety of bicycles and pedestrians on the new span.

A federal loan that Maryland is counting on to finance the new Nice / Middleton bridge is under threat as U.S. Department of Transportation officials worry about the safety of bicycles and pedestrians on the new span.

This $ 200 million loan is expected to cover about a third of the cost of the new bridge, which is about 60 percent complete.

A senior Maryland Transportation Authority official said last week the loan was “in significant jeopardy” and the state may need to find alternative financing. A second official said the difficulty in securing the loan is linked to the state’s 2019 decision to break its pledge to separate bicycles and motor vehicles.

When the state decided to replace the 80-year-old bridge, which connects Charles County and King George County, Va., Governor Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) said the new, wider span would have separate and distinct lanes for motor vehicles, bicycles and pedestrians.

The authority then reversed course, citing an estimated cost of $ 58 million that was rebudgeted to widen part of I-95 in Harford County. The decision angered cycling fans.

With the replacement bridge partially completed, speakers told the board on Thursday that the only viable option was to reuse the existing span as a trail for hikers and cyclists when the new bridge opens.

Champe Burnley, outgoing president of the Virginia Bicycling Federation, said maintaining the existing bridge would create a 52-mile trail between the two states, as the bridge is adjacent to trails on either side of the Potomac.

“Trails like this attract tourists,” he said. “They attract businesses. They are an economic engine.

Burnley noted that Congress included $ 11 billion for bicycle and pedestrian safety in the newly passed infrastructure bill – a fund that did not exist when council abandoned the cycle path .

Diana Donahue, a member of the Oxon Hill Bicycle and Trail Club, scoffed at the safety measures recommended by the MDTA for the new bridge.

“A flashing light that says there is a cyclist on the bridge – I think it would be just as logical … to hand them targets to put on their backs [that] say “hit me,” she said. “We’re so much better than that. “

MDTA executive director James F. Ports Jr. defended the decision to reallocate bike lane money to improve part of I-95 southbound.

“The bottleneck and configuration of these lanes has created a problem with an increase in accidents, injuries and fatalities in this area,” he said. “I think that decision – in most people’s minds – was pretty easy.”

He said the state had offered to sell the old bridge to Charles County and the Commonwealth of Virginia, but officials were scared of the maintenance costs.

Greg Hinchliffe, a retired rider who said he has cycled all over the world, said he would feel more comfortable cycling “on the ring road” than on the new bridge. He said the state would save “a billion dollars” without demolishing the existing span.

MDTA transport secretary and chairman of the board, Greg Slater, noted that the decision to abandon the cycle path was made before he was chosen to head the agency.

“I have some thoughts and ideas that I want to explore a bit with people outside of MDTA,” he said.

Pushing for a reassessment of the current plan, Donahue noted that more people are exercising now than ever.

“People who are active, who cycle, who walk, are part of the future,” she said. “With the pandemic, people are going out more to exercise, to stay healthy, to stay outdoors and to stay sane.”


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