Any new bridge over the Chester will not happen for at least five years according to State Highway Administration officials who unveiled several options that included widening the existing span to four lanes, building another two-lane bridge upstream, or spanning the Chester about a mile downriver. The next step is a two to three year project planning study that involves such issues as environmental impact, historical considerations, traffic patterns and residents’ wants. Final construction time will take about an additional two years.
Michael Rothenheber, an engineering consultant to the SHA, described the current bridge as functionally obsolete meaning it is too narrow for federal standards and cannot accommodate current or projected demands. The bridge is not structurally deficient, he quickly added. Rothenheber said daily traffic volume is growing from an average of 17,200 as of last year to 26,600 by year 2030. While 23-percent of vehicles are through traffic, 77-percent have Chestertown as the destination, requiring two more traffic lanes.
One option is putting the two traffic lanes parallel to the current bridge. But Rothenheber appeared to concede this would be difficult since it is in an historic district. Widening the point of entry to Chestertown would mean knocking down at least parts of some historic homes. The surprise alternative is to run a parkway westward at the intersection of Rts. 213 and 544, going through Britland Farm and south of Kingstown, crossing the Chester River, and linking into John Hanson Road. This alternative means paving over a substantial amount of critical wetlands. To accommodate sailboats, a southern span would need to arch considerably higher over the river than would one upstream. The upstream span seemed to be the leading choice and was clearly the favorite of officials on the Kent County side of the river. Commissioner Ron Fithian indicated it is still the preferred route for many reasons.
The plans for this route showed it having a roundabout at Rt. 544, and did not show it allowing traffic to access or exit at Fey Road, but SHA officials said that could be done and they will be considering it. It is precisely at Fey Road where problems begin. Chester Harbor residents are against Fey Road being cut and the route being closed to them. Ron Abler, a member of the board of the Chester Harbor Home Owners Association, told the Kent County commissioners that 50 percent of Chestertown’s first responders live in Chester Harbor. If an upstream span results in the Fey Road route to Chestertown being closed, it could add 15 to 30 minutes travel time from that neighborhood to town.