A bill pending in the Maryland Senate would require the state transportation authority to begin exploring the possibility of a bond-financed bridge across the Chesapeake Bay.

Senate Bill 93, sponsored by a bipartisan duo -Republican Sen. E.J. Pipkin and Democrat Sen. John Astle - would instruct the Maryland Transportation Authority to conduct an environmental impact study for a third tolled bridge across the bay. An EIS is the first step in the process of developing a new infrastructure project.

The bill would also provide for the creation of a financing plan, including details on debt issuance, that the authority would have to send to the legislature no fewer than 45 days before entering into a contract to build the bridge.

That plan would have to include an estimate of the revenue an associated bond sale would generate, as well as an analysis of how issuing those bonds would impact the authority's borrowing ability going forward. The authority also would be empowered to seek federal grants to complete the project. If passed into law, the bill would become effective Oct. 1.

The current Chesapeake Bay bridges connect Maryland's western and eastern shores between Ann Arundel County and Kent Island. The original two-lane bridge was constructed in 1952, and the second three-lane bridge was constructed in 1973.

Both sponsors are residents of the area, and Pipkin has said the congestion associated with the bridges is a major problem. The bottleneck could also be dangerous if a large-scale evacuation were ever necessary, Pipkin told fellow lawmakers.

The bridges are major routes for daily commuters as well as tourists and weekend visitors to the Maryland and Delaware beach resort areas, including Ocean City, Md. The existing bridge is the only roadway crossing the Chesapeake Bay, and 27.1 million vehicles crossed the bridge in 2011, according to a legislative analysis.

The bill would cost about $38 million through 2018 if enacted, according to an impact analysis by the Maryland Department of Legislative Services. Previous efforts at such legislation have failed to win the approval of the full senate, though the same bill did pass through committee last year.

The bill has been referred to the state Senate Finance Committee, of which Astle is vice chair, but no vote has yet been held.

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