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Star Democrat: New Dover Bridge officially opens

TANYARD — Gov. Larry Hogan hitched a ride Wednesday, June 13, in a 1941 Buick convertible for one last trip across the old Dover Bridge, the crumbling, 86-year-old swing bridge over the Choptank River, before cutting the ribbon to officially open the new Dover Bridge, the towering fixed span alongside it.

Traffic on state Route 331 was already streaming by on the new bridge, having been diverted the day before, and work will continue at the site as contractors add the finishing touches, but the snip of Hogan’s scissors on the ceremonial ribbon was the moment everyone who fought for a safer river crossing had been waiting for.

“It’s been 24 years and four governors,” said Richard Colburn, who was key in securing state funding for the project during his five terms as a state senator between 1995 and 2015.

“I’m without words,” said George Jackson, the American Corner resident who started a letter-writing campaign in the mid-1990s.

In his remarks before cutting the ribbon, Hogan acknowledged many of the people who contributed over the years to making the new bridge a reality, including Colburn and the state legislators currently representing the district; county and municipal officials; Comptroller Peter Franchot and his Chief of Staff Len Foxwell; and Maryland Department of Transportation and State Highway Administration officials.

Hogan said the $65.4 million, 2,020-foot, long, 50-foot high bridge is open a year ahead of schedule, thanks to the leadership of Project Engineer Trudi Gaito.

“This is really a great day for the Eastern Shore,” Hogan said. “People have been begging for this for decades.” The old bridge, built in 1932, is considered historically significant, being one of only three swing bridges in Maryland, and the only one of its particular structure.

But for the last several years of its life, the unique construction showed its disadvantage, as the center span often stuck or refused to properly close after opening to allow boats to pass through, cutting off southern Caroline and northern Dorchester counties’ residents from Talbot County.

Advocates for a new bridge called it a major safety issue, as those residents could not reach the closest emergency department in Easton.

Jackson remembered Colonel Richardson High School students in 1997 performing a play for local delegates and MDOT officials, in which a woman suffered a heart attack and died, because the ambulance trying to get her to the emergency department in Easton was held up at Dover Bridge.

“That moved people to do something,” Jackson said.

The new bridge is wider, with shoulders along both travel lanes. The fixed span design will allow boats to pass under without interrupting vehicle traffic.

“It’s a reliable gateway,” Hogan said.

Colburn said for years, it all came down to funding.

“Bottom line, there was no money,” Colburn said.

The first step was to get a replacement bridge listed as a spending priority in the state’s six-year consolidated transportation plan, Colburn said. Officials from Talbot, Caroline and Dorchester counties all agreed to name it a local priority.

Colburn said he and former Talbot County Councilman Tom Duncan worked together to get elected officials in Preston, East New Market, Easton, Federalsburg and Hurlock to also support the effort.

In 2013, Colburn said, when he was a state senator, then-Gov. Martin O’Malley promised if Colburn did not push amendments to O’Malley’s gas tax proposal, he would include the funding for a new bridge in the state budget.

“O’Malley said, ‘Rich, you won’t get a new Dover Bridge by holding bake sales,’” Colburn said. “He kept his word and funded Dover Bridge.”

The groundbreaking in October 2014 was attended by then-Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown.

“And Gov. Hogan has seen it through,” Colburn said.

Jackson said he wanted to thank Franchot for all his help as a member of the Board of Public Works.

He also wanted to remember friends who had helped with the effort along the way, but did not live to see the new bridge.

Foxwell praised Jackson and Colburn for the work they did to push for a new Dover Bridge.

“Ultimately, this is George Jackson’s day,” Foxwell said. “George Jackson never gave up the fight for the Dover Bridge. For 20 years, he kept the lights on long after lesser people would have folded up the tent and walked home. Not only did he do something extraordinary for the region he calls home; but in so doing, he taught all of us an invaluable lesson in character, which is to never give up for something you believe in. I certainly hope this bridge will be named after George Jackson for all he did as a private citizen.

“Sen. Colburn was a very persistent advocate for the Dover Bridge for a very long time,” he said. “This project represents the very best of what people want to see from their political leaders. It was a collaborative effort that transcended parties. Republicans and Democrats alike, put aside their natural differences to get this project done. It is not only going to improve the mobility of this region, it will quite literally save lives.”

The old bridge’s center span will be swung permanently open, and the spans that once connected it with Caroline and Talbot counties will be open to the public as fishing piers

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