Harry Nice Bridge

Land along Wayside Park in King George will be lost when a new bridge is built over the Potomac River. Construction is expected to last from 2020 to 2023.

To bike or not to bike is one of the questions brewing over the new Potomac River bridge.

The Maryland Transportation Authority has gone back and forth over whether it can afford to include separate lanes for bicyclists and pedestrians on the new Gov. Harry W. Nice Memorial/Sen. Thomas "Mac" Middleton Bridge between King George County and Charles County, Md. Construction on the $765 million project is scheduled to begin early next year.

The lack of the separate lane threatened to halt the bridge progress, but a key vote on Wednesday by the National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board allowed Maryland to move forward with plans to apply for a much-needed, low-interest federal loan. The approval came "on an unusually contentious 17-7 vote" by board members, according to WTOP news.

King George resident and trail enthusiast Jim Lynch long has advocated for a path for pedestrians and bikes, separated by a barrier, on the bridge. In recent years, he's updated the King George Board of Supervisors on developments and encouraged board members to support a separate path. 

As King George and Charles counties continue to grow, Lynch believes a separate bike and pedestrian path on the new bridge "could very well become a destination attraction in its own right. We're hopeful that Maryland officials with vision will step up."

Meanwhile, the Tri-County Council for Southern Maryland recently wrote that, while they've always supported the separate lane for bicycles and walkers, "four full travel lanes for vehicles is the single most important feature of the new bridge."

MDTA and Maryland Department of Transportation officials have said they'll provide a path, if the bids on design and construction come in low enough this fall. If not, bicyclists can share a lane of the bridge with motorists, just as they can on state roads.

The Transportation Planning Board wants Maryland officials to report back to it by December on the progress of the bike lane.

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Cathy Dyson: 540/374-5425

cdyson@freelancestar.com

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