NEWBURG, Md. – A delay of a federal loan that was supposed to finance the construction of the new Nice/Middleton Bridge could soon cause plans to crumble.
In November 2019, the Maryland Department of Transportation Authority (MDTA) board approved a $463 million contract to design and build the new US 301 bridge to replace the Governor Harry W. Nice Memorial/Senator Thomas “Mac” Middleton Bridge over the Potomac River.
Also, the state applied for a $200 million loan through the federal Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) program in 2019 that was expected to be fully approved after a year.
However, the U.S. Department of Transportation has not signed off on the loan, according to Allan W. Garman, who heads MDTA Treasury and Debt Division. This particular loan was supposed to fund nearly half of the design-build project’s $463 million costs.
“The loan is essentially stalled,” Garman said. “We believe the loan is in jeopardy of not being approved, and that’s despite our compliance with all federal guidelines.”
The delay is supposedly caused by safety concerns after plans for a barrier-separated dedicated lane for cyclists and pedestrians were dropped from the plan. Additionally, some funding has been tied to other work along the I-95 corridor around Harford County.
“They wanted assurance that MDTA would do this work, which the MDTA Board approved when the new Nice/Middleton Bridge contract was awarded in November 2019. They also have inquired about funding bicycle/pedestrian paths on US 301, a roadway not owned by MDTA, near the new bridge,” MDTA representative John Sales explained. “Regarding bike and pedestrian access, the new Nice/Middleton Bridge is investing more than $2 million to include several safety enhancements for bicyclists, including bicycle-friendly roadway joints and intelligent transportation systems tools such as lighting and signage.”
The new bridge construction began in July 2020. Crews have estimated to have completed around 60% of the construction, and the bridge is set to open in early 2023.
If the TIFIA loans do not go through, the state will have to start looking for a lump sum of funds.
“In the next four months, probably, we’re going to have to make a decision. It takes time to prepare for a bond sale,” MDTA Chief Financial Officer Deborah Sharpless told Maryland Matters. “We’ve all heard ‘it’s not over until the fat lady sings.’ She’s not singing yet, but she’s warming up.”
Currently, the MDTA is creating a letter to federal transportation officials informing them that the project received approval from the National Environmental Policy Act without a dedicated bike lane. This should show the safety concerns are just that: concerns and nothing more.
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