The Thomas Johnson Bridge
The Thomas Johnson Bridge, which connects Calvert and St. Mary's counties, had been on the drawing board for nearly a decade, part of the "trade-off" southern Maryland legislators had negotiated when slot machine gambling was outlawed in the region in 1968. In 1977, when this image (right) was taken, the bridge was finally becoming a reality. Multi-story cranes on the bridge and on barges below suggest the coordination, commitment, and investment the State of Maryland was making in the region's infrastructure. The bridge's poured-concrete pilings, which rise 135 feet above the Patuxent, reveal an elegant structure befitting the promise of what until then had been a poor region of the state.
The photograph captures that moment when the bridge's central steel span--the span that will connect and complete the structure--is about to be locked into place. This, the photograph seems to say, is the moment that will change everything--an optimism signaling the end of what had gone before with the promise of a literal modern highway into the future.
Eleven years later, in 1988, cracks discovered in the structure's deep-water piers forced the temporary closing of the bridge while steel braces were added to reinforce the pilings. For two months, travelers took a passenger ferry between Solomons and Town Creek, or drove 25 to 30 miles north to the Benedict Bridge. So began an uneasy anxiety in the public's mind about this once hopeful symbol of the region's growth and prosperity.
Now in 2013, the Thomas Johnson Bridge carries nearly 30,000 vehicles on a daily basis. The bridge handles far more traffic than it was originally designed for and represents one of Maryland's pressing transportation needs.
The Thomas Johnson Bridge was built at a cost of $26 million. Estimates to replace or otherwise add capacity stand at $670 million to $790 million, more than 25 times the bridge's original cost.
Below: In early 2009, the Maryland Department of Transportation installed a video camera on the west side of the Thomas Johnson Bridge to monitor traffic.
All images courtesy of the Calvert Marine Museum.