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Last updateThu, 19 Nov 2015 8pm

   20140901MetroCastweb

Harry W. Nice Bridge plan stalled with no funding for construction

Brooks, Mullen & LoBuglio question bike/pedestrian path

The Maryland Transportation Authority (MDTA), in coordination with the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT), initiated a project planning study for the Governor Harry W. Nice Memorial Bridge Improvement Project four years ago.

The King George Board of Supervisors got an update on the proposed project last week, with Glen Smith, Project Manager with the MDTA, saying that there is still no money to continue the project beyond the planning stage.

That was the same message he gave to supervisors a year ago.

Smith said he was present to provide a status report on the project planning, update the board on the preferred alternate conceptual mitigation package, and discuss the status of a draft memorandum of agreement proposed between the MDTA, VDOT, FHWA, the National Park Service, Virginia Tourism Corporation, Virginia Department of Conservation & Recreation and the King George Board of Supervisors.

That memorandum is in regard to mitigation of the effects to public parks from the bridge project.

The MDTA is completing its final phase of the planning to be concluded in spring 2011.

The previous phase included two public hearings a year ago for input on an environmental impact document required under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

Smith said the NEPA study was conducted because if the project does go forward, it would likely include federal funding, and a NEPA study is required under that scenario.

The NEPA study includes an environmental analysis that identifies how the proposed alternates would affect the surrounding communities, businesses, and natural environment, known in this case as the conceptual mitigation package.

PREFERRED CONSTRUCTION ALTERNATE

The cost of the preferred bridge improvement alternate is estimated at about $800 million–$850 million.

That would entail construction of a new four-lane bridge with 24-foot wide travel lanes in each direction, 12-foot shoulders on either side of the vehicle lanes with wide offsets in the middle on each side of a center barrier, a 10-foot wide two-way bicycle/pedestrian path on the south side with a barrier separation from vehicles. The bridge would also have outside railings on each side of the bridge.

Supervisor Cedell Brooks questioned the need for the bridge to have a bicycle/pedestrian path and also wanted to know how much that added to the cost.

“Nobody rides bicycles that much on U.S. 301 because 301 really doesn’t have shoulders to accommodate bicycles,” Brooks said.

Saying the cost range for the bicycle/pedestrian path is estimated at $70 million–$90 million, Smith added, “We are getting direction from Federal Highway (Administration) for any major projects to begin incorporating all modes of transportation on all our highway projects.”

Smith also said that counties on both sides of the river have planning for bike routes in the future, adding there would be connecting points and it would tie into Wayside and Barnesfield parks.

Supervisor James Mullen said he agreed with Brooks, saying “There’s not that much bicycle traffic on the Virginia side.” He added, “Nobody rides a bike on the shoulders.”

Supervisor John LoBuglio also criticized the bicycle/pedestrian path, saying, “I too have reservations about, you know, spending that kind of money in these times, you know, $70-90M. That is a huge amount when we’re basically mostly worried about traffic itself.”

LoBuglio’s first public involvement in local politics was a few years ago with another path, when he lead the charge against establishment of the Dahlgren Railroad Heritage Trail in King George and pushed for deletion of its mention in the county’s Comprehensive Plan.

KING GEORGE SUPPORTS BRIDGE IMPROVEMENT

King George supervisors are on record as being in favor of a bridge reconstruction project that will improve traffic flow on U.S. 301 and eliminate backups that routinely occur in the county for those traveling north to go across the bridge.

Supervisors officially support the project, despite the expectation of losing some land at Wayside Park and Barnesfield Park that would be needed for bridge construction.

Chairman Dale Sisson attempted to get the discussion item back on track, saying, “I guess the bottom line is we really don’t have any say in that design phase.” He added, “Mr. Smith’s presentation to us tonight is just to let us know where the project stands.”

Supervisor Joe Grzeika asked, “How long do you project the information that you’ve put together during this planning stage to be viable and not have to be redone due to the delay in the funding for the engineering phase?”

Smith said a rule of thumb is three years, saying if the bridge improvement project is not funded in that timeframe, there would be a reevaluation if the project got back on track.

Smith added, “The reevaluation would not be nearly as extensive as what we are going through now, it would just be a reevaluation of the document.”

Brooks chimed in, saying, “I guess some of the concerns that I had, like Mr. Sisson said, we really don’t have a whole bunch of input about what’s going to happen with the bridge, so really a lot of this stuff you come and tell us, our input, what’s the purpose?”

Brooks added, “It will probably be a long time before the money is there. So I guess I’m wondering, maybe it’s just me thinking, why do you come and give us a report on something when one, we don’t have any input on and two, we don’t have any money for?”

Sisson reminded him that the Board had asked for updates on the proposal.

Grzeika added, “And remember, we heard about this and didn’t really know what was going on and we asked Mr. Smith, and he’s been here on a regular basis updating us so at least we knew what Maryland was doing, they took our input and held a public hearing over at Potomac Elementary School. So at least we are getting our inputs in. It is a Maryland project, we own up to the river and that’s it, and they are responsible for the bridge.”

Sisson said, “I guess from my standpoint, the only hope we’ve got is if we support the project, and then work with our federal delegation to try to get some engineering dollars in place.”

By Phyllis Cook

Staff Reporter

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