In February the Herald called for a feasibility study of a bridge over the Delaware Bay from Cape May to Lewes, Delaware.
Recently in an April 4 editorial, the Press of Atlantic City argued for consideration of a bridge before any investments are made in a new fleet of ferries. Citizen groups have advocated for the bridge. Public officials have asked for the matter to be studied. In 2003, then-Assemblyman Jeff Van Drew called for a feasibility study that was never done.
For decades the Delaware River and Bay Authority (DRBA) has resisted even studying the issue. The last study in 1980 was over forty years ago when DRBA concluded that the expense could not be justified due to a lack of travel demand. At that time the first lanes of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel were approaching 20 years old.
Consider that Bridge Tunnel for a moment. The first lanes opened to traffic in April 1964. As of January 2021, the facility has had over 140 million vehicle crossings. Once in place the traffic demands on the Bridge Tunnel led to construction of a parallel crossing in 1995. By April 1999 the crossing opened to four lanes of traffic. A further expansion project to create a parallel tunnel is underway with expected completion in 2023.
The Chesapeake Bridge Tunnel is the most recent connection along the Ocean Highway, a combination of roadways that predated the interstate highway system and carried motor vehicles along a route that hugged the Atlantic Shoreline as closely as possible. It was a route meant to spur tourism and it is still an alternative passage for those who seek to avoid the congestion of locations like the Washington Baltimore metropolitan area.
The missing link in the chain of roads and crossings is a way across the southern expanse of the Delaware Bay. The Cape May Lewes ferry with its 85-minute crossing for a limited number of vehicles serves as a barrier to a shore route and sends people back to the interstate highway system.
Is a bridge across the Delaware Bay worth it? We don’t know because DRBA has continuously refused to do a feasibility study. Providing easier ways to arrive in Cape May County is an obvious boon to tourism. A bridge potentially opens up the attraction of our resorts for a new group of travelers.
How much would a bridge cost and how could it be financed? We don’t know that either. The last figure we were given came in 2003 from DRBA Chairman Richard Cordrey who estimated it would require $1 billion. This number had no basis in any formal analysis. It came from an official who was resisting Van Drew’s call for a study.
The Chesapeake Bay Tunnel was financed entirely with bonds tied to toll receipts. No taxpayer dollars were used. What would tolls have to be to finance a 17-mile span covering the current ferry route? That information would be part of the study DRBA refuses to undertake.
Why bring this up again now? It would be hard to imagine a better time to consider a bridge as an alternative to the ferry system. Washington is gearing up for significant infrastructure spending. Regardless of your political allegiance or your thoughts about an infrastructure bill, it is highly likely that some form of major infrastructure spending will be a reality and we should look to benefit from it. Interest rates are also at historic lows.
It is time for our elected representatives to call on DRBA to conduct the feasibility study. Another convenient access route to the county, one that provides a link to our south, would do more than promote tourism. It would open opportunities for alternative economic development, alternatives hampered by the current transportation infrastructure into and out of the county.
This is a missing piece of a coastal transportation network that our elected officials should be pushing for now as part of the recovery program that will follow the end of the pandemic. It is time for the feasibility study to be done.
From the Bible: Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away. Matthew 24:35