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Feds sign off on Nice Bridge planning study


The Maryland Transportation Authority (MDTA) announced last week that the final environmental document for the Nice Bridge Improvement Project was recently approved by the Federal Highway Administration, which marks an end to the project’s planning phase for eventual construction of a new bridge.

The planning phase took six years to complete. Next comes the funding phase which could take even longer and is being euphemistically referred to as a ‘significant challenge.’  

If and when funding becomes available, there are several more steps before a new replacement bridge is built. Funding is needed for engineering and design, right-of-way acquisition and then, finally construction of a new bridge.
The cost of the bridge replacement is currently estimated at about $850 million, with the federal government being the primary hope for the largest chunk of money to move the project forward.

The recent sign-off by the Feds on the planning study, completed in accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), also gives its imprimatur to the selected construction alternative.

The planned new bridge is slated to replace the 72-year-old, two-lane Governor Harry W. Nice Memorial Bridge across the Potomac River on U.S. 301, which connects Maryland and Virginia, from Charles County, Md. to King George.

BRIDGE CONCEPTUAL DESIGN
The design alternative selected, known as Modified Alternate 7, would consist of a new bridge built parallel to the existing bridge to its north. The existing bridge would be removed.

The new bridge would have two 24-foot wide travel lanes in each direction. It would have 12-foot shoulders on either side of the vehicle lanes with wide offsets in the middle on each side of a center barrier.

Its plan also entails 10-foot wide two-way bicycle/pedestrian path on the south side with a barrier-separation from vehicles, along with outside railings on each side of the bridge. A designated path on each shore would be constructed to guide bikers and pedestrians to the appropriate outside shoulder along the U.S. 301 approach roadway.

King George county administrator Travis Quesenberry included a letter in this week’s Jan. 2 meeting packet for the Board of Supervisors. In it, Maryland project manager Glen Smith states, “Modified Alternate 7 results in a solution that can be put into service in the shortest amount of time and fully meets the purpose and need of the project. This alternate also avoids adverse impacts to critical missions at the Naval Support Facility Dahlgren (NSFD) base.”

Smith adds, “It was the most frequently supported alternate in comments received from citizens, local elected officials and the Commanding Officer at NSFD during the public comment period.”

KING GEORGE SUPPORTS BRIDGE IMPROVEMENT
King George Supervisors fully support bridge reconstruction to 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, especially at the end of holiday weekends.

When the Board of Supervisors received a report from Smith in October 2010, Supervisor Joe Grzeika commented on the importance of the bridge improvement project to the county and to the Dahlgren base.
At that time, Grzeika said, “The replacement and upgrade of the bridge is extremely critical on several fronts. It is the single crossing of the Potomac in our region and it is vital that it be upgraded to facilitate the flow of traffic, which we know is a problem during the normal summer weekends.”

Grzeika also noted that the bridge serves as the main emergency evacuation route to move large flows of traffic during a natural disaster or worse. He also said, “It is a key link for the base at Dahlgren to be able to coordinate with its sister commands throughout the greater Washington, D.C., area and is also a major supply route for the supplies and products they develop.”

PARKLAND MITIGATION
King George has a memorandum of agreement to be provided replacement parkland to substitute for the land at Wayside and Barnesfield Parks that would be taken by Maryland for bridge construction. The bridge project would require taking 2.2 acres of Barnesfield Park and 2.2 acres of Dahlgren Wayside Park. It would also take 2.1 acres and cause displacement of the Potomac Gateway Welcome Center, which is owned by the Virginia Tourism Corporation.

Replacement parkland would be at least equal in fair market value of the parkland to be taken. The replacement property for it shall also be of reasonably equivalent usefulness, recreational value and location as the parkland to be taken.

REDECKING
If the bridge project is not funded in short order, redecking the existing two-lane bridge may be needed in the meantime. That would entail long-term single lane closures and numerous complete night-time bridge closures as it did in 1985 when the last deck rehabilitation took place.  

Substantial travel time delays would be expected to result during the possible redecking, due to the bridge’s single lane capacity in each direction and the lack of nearby alternate routes.

In 2009, the redecking was estimated to cost upwards of $120 million and was scheduled to take place between 2015 and 2020.

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