Following analysis of transportation and environmental conditions presented in the Tier 1 Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS), comments received from the public, and concurrence from resource and regulatory agencies, the MDTA and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) have formally identified Corridor 7 as the Preferred Corridor Alternative (PCA) for the Bay Crossing Study: Tier 1 NEPA.
Preferred Corridor Analysis
The analysis of traffic, engineering, cost, and environmental considerations indicate that Corridor 7 would have substantial advantages over the other Corridor Alternatives Retained for Analysis (CARA), Corridors 6 and 8. (See DEIS Chapter 5) Major conclusions of this analysis include:
- Additional transportation capacity in Corridor 7 would provide the greatest traffic relief at the Bay Bridge and thus have a greater ability to meet the Tier 1 DEIS Purpose and Need.
- Additional capacity in Corridor 7 would divert substantially more traffic away from the Bay Bridge lanes in terms of total vehicles per day on both summer weekends and non-summer weekdays.
- Additional transportation capacity in Corridor 7 would result in greater peak-hour congestion relief on the Bay Bridge lanes compared to an equivalent number of lanes in Corridors 6 or 8.
- Corridor 7 would likely be the least costly of the three CARA because of the ability to utilize existing roadway infrastructure on US 50/US 301 and the shorter length of crossing over the Chesapeake Bay.
- Corridor 7 would potentially have lower overall environmental impacts due to the shorter Chesapeake Bay crossing length and ability to utilize existing on-land roadway infrastructure along US 50/US 301. Corridors 6 and 8 would require longer crossings and more roadway infrastructure along a new alignment, likely resulting in greater impacts to sensitive environmental resources in and around the Chesapeake Bay.
- Corridors 6 and 8 would likely cause substantial indirect effects from new connectivity between rural lands on the Eastern Shore and employment centers such as Baltimore and Washington, D.C. Corridors 6 and 8 could lead to substantial pressure for new residential development, especially on the Eastern Shore, with corresponding impacts to farmland and natural resources. Corridor 7 would have some indirect effects, but they would be more consistent with existing land-use patterns and plans.
Public and Agency Comment
The public was able to view and comment on the Tier 1 DEIS for a period of 84 days, from February 23 through May 17, 2021. The Notice of Availability was published in the Federal Register on March 5, 2021. The DEIS was available on the project website starting February 23, 2021, and MDTA held live testimony sessions beginning on April 14, 2021. In-person testimony sessions were held on April 21 and April 22, 2021.
MDTA received over 850 comments during the Tier 1 DEIS comment period, including public testimony, written comments, and electronic submissions. Federal, state, and local agencies also provided comments on the Tier 1 DEIS.
Public comments emphasized themes such as the need for traffic congestion relief, especially during peak summer travel times. Comments identified questions about the basis for future travel projections, whether recent mobility changes due to the COVID-19 pandemic should result in a reassessment of the project Purpose and Need, and the long-term impacts of All-Electronic Tolling at the Bay Bridge. Other commenters raised concerns over the potential for additional capacity to impact local roadways in the vicinity of the Bay Bridge, and concerns for land use change and environmental impacts.
Most agency comments were generally in agreement with the findings of the Tier 1 DEIS and the MDTA Recommended Preferred Alternative (RPCA), Corridor 7. Agencies expressed a desire to continue to participate in a potential future Tier 2 study and provided input and recommendations for Tier 2 concerns such as detailed impact analysis, mitigation, and other considerations. Some of the local agencies disagreed with the basis of the study but have since expressed support for a replacement bridge in Corridor 7. Responses to all public and agency comments will be included in the Tier 1 Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS).
The MDTA requested and has received a response of “concurs” or “no objection” on the PCA as of October 6, 2021, from the FHWA and all seven cooperating agencies, which are:
- US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE)
- US Coast Guard (USCG)
- US Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA)
- National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS)
- Maryland Department of Transportation State Highway Administration (MDOT SHA)
- Maryland Department of Environment (MDE)
- Maryland Department of Natural Resources (MDNR)
As a result of the analysis, findings, and concurrences received, Corridor 7 will be identified in the Tier 1 FEIS as the Preferred Corridor Alternative.