Bike path advocates file federal lawsuit to prevent demolition of bridge across the Potomac

Three bicycle trail advocacy groups have filed a federal lawsuit asking for a restraining order to prevent Maryland from demolishing a bridge across the Potomac River, as they seek a crossing for bikes. 

Maryland is building a four-lane bridge parallel to the Governor Harry W. Nice Memorial/Senator Thomas “Mac” Middleton Bridge, which Maryland plans to demolish once the new bridge is complete. 

The structures both span the Potomac River from Charles County to King George County as part of Route 301.

The complaints of the Potomac Heritage Trail Association, Dahlgren Railroad Heritage Trail Association, and Oxon Hill Bicycle and Trail Club stem from now-defunct plans to include a bike lane and pedestrian path on the new bridge, a proposal removed from the structure’s plans in 2019.

“Defendants in 2012 promised to construct a bridge with a separated and protected 10-foot path for pedestrian and bicycle traffic on the bridge. Studying and selecting one configuration, yet building another violates the Environmental Review Laws, as well as the public trust,” the groups wrote, according to WTOP.

The lawyers for the plaintiffs, Thomas Prevas and Anamika Moore of Saul Ewing LLP, told the Daily Record that the “defendants never built the bridge they approved or reviewed in 2012; they built something else.”

The advocates also object to suggestions that bikes share the road with existing traffic.

“The Nice Bridge carries US-301 over the Potomac River and has a posted speed limit of 55 mph. 14% of the traffic volume, approximately one in seven vehicles, consists of heavy trucks. MDTA’s proposed ‘solution’ is dangerous and unsafe and is, effectively, a ban on people using bicycles to cross the river. MDTA’s ‘solution’ bans pedestrians completely,” wrote the Potomac Heritage Trail Association.

In lieu of demolishing the older bridge, built in 1940, they suggest converting the aged structure into bicycle infrastructure.

“It is inconceivable that a major new bridge traversing two states crossing the Potomac River would not have bicycle and pedestrian facilities. … That lack of foresight can be solved by converting the Historic Nice Bridge into a world-class walking and bicycling attraction,” wrote David Brickley, president of the Dahlgren Railroad Heritage Trail Association.

The biking advocates also noted the support of both Maryland gubernatorial candidates, along with Maryland’s senators and Rep. Steny Hoyer, to delay demolition until an independent study on the costs of repurposing the old bridge.

“MDTA’s decision to ignore this request, forcing bikes into high-speed traffic while banning walkers, and doing this as quickly as possible (at an estimated $17 million cost) represents an unseemly combination of recklessness, cynicism, and pettiness,” wrote William Niedringhaus, president of the Potomac Heritage Trail Association.

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