The Maryland Transportation Authority will move forward with replacing the Harry W. Nice Memorial Bridge, according to an announcement made by Governor Larry Hogan on November 21. The 75 year-old bridge crosses the Potomac River from Charles County, Maryland to King George County, Virginia, and will cost $765 million to replace.
This crossing is vital to the nation’s security and to the quality of life of thousands of Marylanders who depend on this bridge daily for work, business, and recreation. The Maryland Transportation Authority (MDTA) anticipates advertising a design-build contract for the new bridge in 2018, starting construction in 2020, and opening a new, wider, and safer bridge in 2023 – seven years sooner than the plan legislatively mandated this past session through Senate Bill 907.
According to The Baltimore Sun, the Governor cut funding for replacement of the Nice Bridge during his first year in office. Prior to the Governor’s term, MDTA had programmed more than $50 million for design and engineering of a new, wider bridge with construction planned for around 2020. Last session the Maryland General Assembly passed Charles County Senator Thomas M. “Mac” Middleton’s bill, Senate Bill 907, which would have required MDTA to finance design and replacement of the bridge. However, the Governor vetoed the bill.
Transportation Secretary Pete Rahn said that the bill would have jeopardized the trust agreement between MDTA and its bondholders and potentially expose it to a lawsuit. The Senate Bill 907 Fiscal Note describes the unique nature of the MDTA:
Since 1971, MDTA has been responsible for constructing, managing, operating, and improving the State’s toll facilities and for financing new revenue-producing transportation projects. MDTA is governed by nine individuals appointed by the Governor, with the advice and consent of the Senate. The Secretary of Transportation serves as MDTA’s chairman. …
MDTA has the authority to set tolls on transportation facilities projects under its supervision. Tolls must provide funds that, when combined with bond proceeds and other available revenues, are sufficient to pay maintenance, repair, and operating costs for transportation facilities projects that are not otherwise paid for; pay the interest and principal of any outstanding bond issues; create reasonable reserves for these purposes; and provide funds for the cost of replacements, renewals, and improvements. Toll revenues are deposited into the Transportation Authority Fund, which is wholly separate from the Transportation Trust Fund.