Waterway Access at Bridges

Maryland is home to more than 10,000 miles of rivers and streams as well as some 4,000 miles of tidal shoreline within the State’s portion of the Chesapeake watershed. Yet accessing these waterways is often very difficult for the growing number of people who wish to use them for fishing, canoeing, kayaking and other recreational activities.

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In 2013, Chesapeake Conservancy, and a coalition of conservationists, paddlers, anglers, citizens, recreation and heritage tourism groups and local governments, worked with the Maryland General Assembly to change that. The Waterway Access Bill (HB 797) passed almost unanimously and will promote safe and reasonable canoe, kayak and fishing access along Maryland’s bridges and roadways.

Many of Maryland’s 5100+ bridges, as well as road ends or roadways adjacent to waterways have traditionally served as barriers to water access, but with this new legislation, new bridges will be able to serve as key entry points to our waterways.

Modeled on similar efforts in North Carolina, Tennessee and California, as well as Maryland’s pedestrian and bicycling safety accommodations, this law will enhance waterway access by requiring the Maryland Department of Transportation and local governments to:

  • Consider any “reasonable and appropriate measures” to provide or improve water access for fishing, canoeing and kayaking when developing a bridge or road construction or improvement project that is adjacent to or crosses a waterway;
  • Establish standards and guidelines, in consultation with Maryland DNR and interested stakeholders, for identifying appropriate transportation facilities for water access as well as best practices and cost effective strategies to accommodate that access.

Enhancing waterway access can be accomplished with little, if any, cost because construction at potential access areas will already occur during bridge construction or repair. Bridge construction requires staging areas and parking spots next to the construction. These facilities are often removed once the bridge is built, but could inexpensively be included as permanent amenities in project design and construction and left to provide public access to the water. This model also involves no land acquisition costs, because these potential access areas are already located in a public right of way.

This new law, enacted October 1, 2013 will help promote outdoor recreational opportunities for families, greatly improve safety for recreational users and motorists alike, help stimulate the economies and livability of local communities, and enhance the health and quality of life of our citizens. The Conservancy and interested stakeholder will remain involved as standards and guidelines are developed.

Learn more from our FAQ page and see the final bill, as passed, here.

Thanks to the Maryland Department of Transportation and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and the many supporters of this legislation: