The Harry W. Nice Memorial Bridge carries US Route 301 over the Potomac River between King George County, Virginia, and Charles County, Maryland.
The Maryland Primary Bridge Program, approved by Governor Harry W. Nice on April 15, 1937, called for fixed crossings of the Potomac, Susquehanna, and Patapsco Rivers and the Chesapeake Bay. 3 The plan was ratified by the United States Congress under its regulatory powers over navigable waterways. A bridge location adjacent to an existing ferry terminal was selected shortly after.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt presided over the groundbreaking ceremony for the Potomac River crossing in 1938. 1 3 The construction of the bridge required extensive subterranean support work and required the installation of 1,700 pilings into loose mud. 2 Steel caissons were then floated out and used as concrete molds. Related to the project, Maryland Route 3 (today’s US Route 301) was extended to the Potomac River from Mattawoman in northern Charles County to provide a high-speed route to the new bridge site.
The new 1.7-mile Potomac River Bridge opened in December 1940 and provided the first highway link between Maryland and Virginia that bypassed Washington D.C. 3
The bridge proved to be more popular than envisioned. It was projected that the crossing would carry an average of 136,000 vehicles per year during the first five years, but by 1942, the traffic volume was surpassing 171,600 vehicles per year. 3 After World War II concluded traffic counts spiked to 453,900 vehicles annually and peaked at 3.2 million crossings in 1964. It dropped by a third in 1965 following the opening of the Capital Beltway around Washington D.C., which made it possible for motorists to travel around Washington D.C. and across the Potomac River on high-speed expressways.
In 1967, the Potomac River Bridge was renamed for Governor Harry W. Nice who had presided over the crossing’s inception. 2 It was extensively rehabilitated in 1986 at the cost of $17.54 million. The name of retiring state Senator Thomas M. Middleton was added to the bridge in October 2018. 4
In June 2006, the Maryland Transportation Authority (MDTA) initiated a study to explore the upgrade or replacement of the Nice Memorial Bridge. 5 The crossing had become a bottleneck as it was only two lanes wide, whereas US Route 301 had long been upgraded to four lanes in Maryland and Virginia. It also featured one 11-foot lane in each direction, steep grades, and a reduced speed limit.
In December 2007, six alternatives had been identified, 6 and the MDTA had received approval from the federal government to replace the current structure with a four-lane bridge that included a bike and pedestrian path. 7 It was estimated that the replacement would cost $850 million. 8
On November 21, 2013, the MDTA had approved an additional $50 million in its final six-year capital program to fund the initial design and right-of-way acquisition for the replacement bridge. An additional $15 million was approved for the replacement crossing’s preliminary design and engineering. 11 Opposition to the new bridge’s high costs from Governor Larry Hogan resulted in several design alterations that shaved more than $200 million from the $1 billion project, including the removal of the bike and pedestrian path and the narrowing of the shoulders. 9 10
In November 2016, Governor Hogan announced that the bridge replacement project had received $765 million in funding for construction. 11 and work on the new $765 million Nice-Middleton Memorial Bridge began in July 2020 by Skanska, Corman, and McLean (SCM), a joint venture. 5 It is expected to be completed in 2023.
- State: Maryland, Virginia
- Route: US Route 301
- Type: Warren Through Truss
- Status: Active - Automobile
- Total Length: 10,050 feet / 1.9 miles
- Main Span Length: 800 feet
- Deck Width: 24.5 feet
- Roadway Width: 22 feet
- Total Height: 135 feet
- Above Vertical Clearance: 16 feet
- Navigational Clearance:
- “Harry W. Nice Memorial Bridge (US 301).” Maryland Transportation Authority.
- “Governor Harry W. Nice Memorial Bridge.” Civil Engineering in Maryland.
- “The Governor Harry W. Nice Bridge.” St. Mary’s Today.
- Gibson, Sarah. “Not just Nice anymore: Md. governor renames Harry Nice Bridge.” WTOP-FM, 20 Oct. 2018.
- “Nice/Middleton Bridge Project – Home.” Maryland Transportation Authority.
- Greenwell, Megan. “6 Possible Paths for Cramped Md. Span.” The Washington Post, 9 Dec. 2007.
- Samuel, Peter. “New Nice Bridge MD-VA moves forward.” TOLLROADSnews, 20 Dec. 2012.
- “FHWA SIGNS OFF ON NICE BRIDGE PLANNING STUDY.” Maryland Transportation Authority, 20 Dec. 2012.
- Dresser, Michael. “Hogan administration says Nice Bridge will last another 30 years. It might have to.” The Baltimore Sun, 13 Mar. 2016.
- “Md. board approves building new $765M Harry Nice bridge.” WTOP-FM, 21 Nov. 2016.
- Winfield, Tamory. “Governor Larry Hogan Announces $765 Million for New Harry W. Nice Memorial Bridge.” Maryland Transportation Authority, 21 Nov. 2016