Governor Harry W. Nice Memorial Bridge

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Governor Harry W. Nice Memorial/Senator Thomas "Mac" Middleton Bridge
Gov. Harry W. Nice Memorial Bridge.jpg
Coordinates38°21′42″N 76°59′36″W / 38.3618°N 76.9934°W / 38.3618; -76.9934Coordinates: 38°21′42″N 76°59′36″W / 38.3618°N 76.9934°W / 38.3618; -76.9934
Carries4 lanes of US 301
CrossesPotomac River
LocaleDahlgren, Virginia and Newburg, Maryland
Maintained byMaryland Transportation Authority
Characteristics
DesignContinuous truss bridge
Total length1.7 mi (2.7 km)[1]
Clearance below135 ft (41 m)[1]
History
DesignerJ. E. Greiner Company[2]
Construction startMarch 1938[1]
Construction cost$5 million[1]
OpenedDecember 1940[1]
Statistics
Daily traffic17,500 (2014)[1]
Toll$9.00 (southbound) per two-axle vehicle beginning July 1, 2013; E-ZPass accepted
Location

The Governor Harry W. Nice Memorial/Senator Thomas "Mac" Middleton Bridge, also known as the Potomac River Bridge, is a 1.7-mile (2.7 km), two-lane continuous truss bridge that spans the Potomac River between Newburg in Charles County, Maryland and Dahlgren in King George County, Virginia, United States.[3] It is one of eight toll facilities operated by the Maryland Transportation Authority, and is one of two toll bridges over the Potomac River. The other, the privately owned Oldtown Low Water Toll Bridge, connects Maryland and West Virginia, far upstream.[4] The new Nice Bridge opened to traffic in October 2022. The original bridge will likely be demolished; no traffic uses it since the new bridge opened.[5]

Overview[edit]

This two lane bridge carries U.S. Route 301, which is a spur of U.S. Route 1 and a popular north–south alternative for bypassing the Baltimore-Washington Metropolitan Area and its frequently congested roads such as Interstate 95, Interstate 495 (Capital Beltway), and the Woodrow Wilson Bridge to the north along the Potomac River. In 2014, the bridge handled approximately 6.4 million vehicles, with a daily average of approximately 17,500.[1]

Congestion[edit]

Since the late 2000s, the bridge was known to experience significant traffic congestion due to its design, combined with increasing traffic from Southern Maryland, particularly as it peaks on holidays and weekends.[6] The bridge is narrow (one 11-foot (3.4 m) lane in each direction with no shoulders), steep (up to 3.75 percent grade), and has a reduced speed limit (50 mph (80 km/h) on the main span, even slower through the southbound toll gates and plaza).[7] By contrast, the approach roads on both sides of the bridge feature four 12-foot (3.7 m) lanes (2 in each direction), full shoulders, and 55 mph (89 km/h) speed limits. This combination forces vehicles to slow and merge as they cross the bridge, which often results in backups.

In response to the bridge's traffic issues, the Maryland Transportation Authority initiated the Governor Harry W. Nice Memorial Bridge Improvement Project in June 2006,[8] which would contemplate improvement of bridge traffic either by widening the bridge or by replacing it altogether. Planning continued for another year, and by the end of 2007, The Washington Post reported that six alternatives had been identified.[9] Ultimately, the decision was made to replace the bridge altogether five years later with a wider one with two lanes per direction.

History[edit]

Wide view of the bridge
A photograph of the Harry W. Nice Bridge taken from Virginia. The border with Maryland is at the foreground shoreline.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt presided over the ground-breaking ceremony for the bridge in 1938.[1][10] Known as the Potomac River Bridge when opened in December 1940, the bridge was renamed in 1967 for Harry W. Nice (1877–1941) who served as governor of Maryland from 1935 to 1939.[11][12] The bridge was the first south of Washington, D.C. to provide a highway link between Maryland and Virginia.[13][14] In October 2018, the name of retiring state Senator Thomas M. Middleton was added to the bridge, making it officially the Governor Harry W. Nice Memorial/Senator Thomas "Mac" Middleton Bridge.[15]

In March 2020, all-electronic tolling was implemented as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, with tolls payable through E-ZPass or Video Tolling, which uses automatic license plate recognition. All-electronic tolling was made permanent in August 2020.[16]

Construction of replacement bridge[edit]

In December 2012, it was reported that the Maryland Transportation Authority (MDTA) completed a study of the Nice Bridge and received approval from the federal government to replace the current structure with a span with four lanes and a bike/pedestrian path, to be located just north of the existing bridge, which will be removed upon completion of the replacement crossing.[17] The MDTA estimated the cost of a replacement span at about $850 million, but funding was not identified as of 2012.[18] The project is being coordinated with the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT), and is proceeding in conjunction with the Maryland State Highway Administration's U.S. Route 301 South Corridor Transportation Study[19] and the U.S. Route 301 Waldorf Area Transportation Improvements Project.[20]

On November 21, 2013, Governor Martin O’Malley announced that the MDTA Board has approved an additional $50 million in its final six-year capital program (FY 2014 – FY 2019) to fund initial design and right-of-way acquisition for the project to replace the Governor Harry W. Nice Memorial Bridge (US 301), which connects Charles County, Maryland and King George County, Virginia, across the Potomac River. The planning phase of the project was completed in fall 2012. The selected alternative consists of a new four-lane bridge built parallel to, and north of, the existing bridge, which would be removed upon completion of the new bridge. Opposition to a new bridge from Governor Larry Hogan had prevented construction from being scheduled.[21]

Early construction on the replacement bridge, April 2021

However, on November 21, 2016, the Maryland Transportation Authority Board voted unanimously to build a new, 4-lane bridge just north of the current structure. Construction began in July 2020.[22] A ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new bridge was held on October 12, 2022, with Governor Hogan in attendance, while the bridge opened to traffic the following day.[23] The approved bridge design has several design alterations which shave more than $200 million from the originally projected price of around $1 billion, allowing Governor Hogan to shift his support in favor of the bridge.[24] One of the major redesign choices was the removal of the multi-use path for pedestrians and bicycles, citing low projected usage; in its stead, Will Pines, chief engineer of the MDTA, states that the bridge will be open for cyclists to share the lane with motor vehicles, similar to the present arrangement on the Thomas J. Hatem Bridge on US 40.[25] The old bridge is planned to be demolished and converted into an artificial reef that can provide new shelter for marine life in the river.[26]

Bike lane exclusion and old bridge demolition controversies[edit]

House majority leader Steny Hoyner, along with Maryland senators Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen, objected to plans to demolish the old bridge following the new one's completion, suggesting an independent study be conducted to explore the possibility that the old bridge itself could be used for recreational and bike traffic, but Transportation Secretary Jim Ports countered by contending that financial and logistical challenges were too great to keep the old bridge in place.[26] However, bicycle advocacy groups, which include Potomac Heritage Trail Association, Dahlgren Railroad Heritage Association and Oxon Hill Bicycle and Trail Club, allege in a complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland, that state agencies, including the MDTA, violated state and federal environmental review laws by changing the project from its original conception and failing to study the impact of demolishing the bridge. The groups, who are asking for a temporary restraining order, to halt the demolition, also allege that the authority lacks the power to destroy the bridge under environmental laws, stating in a complaint, "Using explosives to demolish parts of the Historic Nice Bridge or the rubble from the bridge to create a 'reef' has not been evaluated appropriately for the impact on the natural habitat and human environment, including the taking of endangered species or disruption of their habitats."

The plaintiffs also allege that the defendants never considered the “cumulative effects” of the construction plan and the potential demolition of the old bridge on human, environmental and historic resources, as well as on publicly or privately owned landmark sites listed or eligible for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places.[27] The future of the old bridge fell to U.S. District Judge Deborah L. Boardman, who declined to issue an injunction blocking the demolition Tuesday, October 11, 2022, saying after a three-hour hearing that the groups had not met standards to halt the plans — a pause the state estimated would cost taxpayers $21,500 each day. The decision appeared to end a years-long dispute, part of a battle over how to accommodate non-drivers on a major river crossing that was designed to last a century.[5]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h "Harry W. Nice Memorial Bridge (US 301)". mdta.maryland.gov. Maryland Transportation Authority. Archived from the original on January 18, 2017. Retrieved May 2, 2017.
  2. ^ "Bridge Builders and Designers Active in Maryland" (PDF). Maryland State Archives, Special Collections. Retrieved January 3, 2018.
  3. ^ "MdTA toll facilities: southern region: Nice Bridge". Maryland Transportation Authority. Archived from the original on October 9, 2011.
  4. ^ Samuel, Peter. "Oldtown Bridge MD-WV facing major regulatory problems for toll hike". Tollroads News. Archived from the original on January 16, 2016. Retrieved January 4, 2016.
  5. ^ a b Duncan, Ian (October 11, 2022). "New Potomac River Bridge to open: judge allows demolition of old span". The Washington Post. Retrieved October 16, 2022.
  6. ^ "Bridge Maintenance". Governor Harry W. Nice Memorial Bridge Improvement Project. Maryland Transportation Authority. Archived from the original on December 11, 2007. Retrieved June 16, 2007.
  7. ^ "Roadway Design and Features". Governor Harry W. Nice Memorial Bridge Improvement Project. Maryland Transportation Authority. Archived from the original on December 11, 2007. Retrieved June 16, 2007.
  8. ^ "Governor Harry W. Nice Memorial Bridge Improvement Project". Maryland Transportation Authority.
  9. ^ Greenwell, Megan (December 9, 2007). "6 Possible Paths for Cramped Md. Span". The Washington Post. Retrieved December 23, 2007.
  10. ^ Legler, Dixie; Highsmith, Carol (2002). Historic Bridges of Maryland. Crownsville, Maryland: Maryland Historic Trust. p. 64. ISBN 1-878399-80-2.
  11. ^ "Harry W. Nice, MSA SC 3520-1481". Maryland Manual On-Line. Maryland State Archives. March 14, 2001. Retrieved January 5, 2018.
  12. ^ "Governor Harry W. Nice Memorial Bridge". Civil Engineering in Maryland. Johns Hopkins University. Archived from the original on June 8, 2007.
  13. ^ "Project Overview and Background". Governor Harry W. Nice Memorial Bridge Improvement Project.
  14. ^ "The Governor Harry W. Nice Bridge". St. Mary's Today Online Edition. Archived from the original on August 17, 2007.
  15. ^ Gibson, Sarah (October 20, 2018). "Not just Nice anymore: Md. governor renames Harry Nice Bridge". WTOP-FM. Retrieved February 28, 2019.
  16. ^ "All-Electronic Tolling Now Permanent at All MDTA Facilities Statewide in Maryland". Salisbury, MD: WBOC-TV. August 6, 2020. Retrieved August 6, 2020.
  17. ^ Samuel, Peter (December 20, 2012). "New Nice Bridge MD-VA moves forward". TOLLROADSnews. Archived from the original on March 18, 2013. Retrieved December 26, 2012.
  18. ^ "FHWA SIGNS OFF ON NICE BRIDGE PLANNING STUDY (press release)". Maryland Transportation Authority. December 20, 2012. Retrieved December 26, 2012.
  19. ^ "2007-2012 Consolidated Transportation Program — State Highway Administration (SHA) Summary — Charles County" (PDF). Maryland Transportation Authority. February 4, 2007. Archived from the original (PDF) on September 28, 2007.
  20. ^ "Related Projects". Governor Harry W. Nice Memorial Bridge Improvement Project.
  21. ^ Dresser, Michael (March 13, 2016). "Hogan administration says Nice Bridge will last another 30 years. It might have to". The Baltimore Sun. Retrieved July 22, 2016.
  22. ^ "Home - New Nice Middleton Bridge Project". Maryland Transportation Authority. Retrieved December 4, 2020.
  23. ^ "Nice-Middleton Bridge opens this week, ahead of schedule". Baltimore, MD: WBAL-TV. October 12, 2022. Retrieved October 13, 2022.
  24. ^ "Md. board approves building new $765M Harry Nice bridge". WTOP-FM. November 21, 2016. Retrieved November 22, 2016.
  25. ^ Murillo, Mike (December 12, 2019). "Maryland sheds light on decision to cut protected bike lane from Nice Bridge". WTOP-FM. Retrieved August 18, 2021.
  26. ^ a b DePuyt, Bruce (August 11, 2022). "Despite pleas from federal lawmakers, Md. on track to demolish old Nice Bridge". WTOP-FM. Retrieved August 30, 2022.
  27. ^ Cline, Nathaniel (October 7, 2022). "Cyclist groups seek to delay demolition of old Nice Bridge over Potomac". Virginia Mercury. Retrieved October 9, 2022.

External links[edit]