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Debate over how to improve Southern Md. bridge

Saturday - 7/9/2011, 12:07pm  ET

Michelle Basch,

CALIFORNIA, Md. - The Gov. Thomas Johnson Memorial Bridge needs improvements, but there are big questions about design and cost.

The bridge, which connects Calvert and St. Mary's Counties in Southern Maryland, opened in 1977, and carries just one lane of traffic in each direction.

Local leaders want to add another two lanes of capacity, plus room for bicyclists and pedestrians to cross.

A state-funded study to determine how to expand the bridge is almost complete, but big decisions still need to be made. Among them: Should a second span be added, or should a new bridge be built? And how tall should any new construction be?

The current bridge soars 140 feet above the Patuxent River to accommodate Navy ships that no longer dock in the area. Building a wider bridge that's not as tall could save money, but several county commissioners tell the Southern Maryland Newspapers online they would like a new bridge that is the same height as the old.

Then, there's the price tag. The state estimates a new bridge would cost at least $750 million, and it's not clear where the money would come from.

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