The Governor Harry W. Nice Memorial Bridge carries US 301 over the Potomac River between Maryland and Virginia. It is the second oldest of the Maryland Transportation Authority’s (MDTA) seven facilities. The opening of the bridge on Dec. 15, 1940, gave MDTA customers a new route to the South. Before the bridge was built, travelers heading from eastern and southern Maryland to Richmond and Norfolk, and points further south, crawled through Washington, D.C., along US 1.
Originally called the Potomac River Bridge, the structure was renamed in April 1968 to honor the governor of Maryland during whose administration the bridge was planned and built. There were no bridges across the Potomac River south of the nation’s capital prior to Dec. 1940. The Maryland Primary Bridge Program, developed in 1937, called for crossings of the Potomac, Susquehanna, and Patapsco Rivers and the Chesapeake Bay. Governor Nice approved the program on April 15, 1937, and a year later the United States Congress ratified the plan under its regulatory powers over navigable waterways.
The site chosen for the Potomac River Bridge was a ferry terminal. In earlier years, crowded vessels transported vacationers across the Potomac River on their way to the popular resort town of Colonial Beach, Virginia.
In September 1938, President Franklin D. Roosevelt journeyed to Charles County to lead the ground breaking ceremony for the new 11,446-foot span. To serve the bridge, Maryland Route 3 (Crain Highway) was extended to the Potomac River from Mattawoman in northern Charles County. The extension of Route 3 is now known as US 301.
The extension of Crain Highway and the opening of the bridge over the Potomac proved a more popular southern route than planners had anticipated. Traffic engineers predicted the bridge would carry an average of 136,000 vehicles-per-year during the first five years. During fiscal year 1942, the traffic volume surpassed 171,600 vehicles. Just four years later, the count climbed to 453,900 annually.
Traffic peaked at 3.2 million in 1964. The following year, it dropped by a third following the opening of the Capital Beltway, which made it possible for southbound motorists to quickly travel around Washington, venture across the Potomac River, and continue south into Virginia.
In recent years, traffic volumes have rebounded, with 6.7 million vehicles crossing the bridge during fiscal year 2009, proving that many motorists still prefer the comparative tranquility of travel through Charles County on US 301 as an alternative to the congested Capital Beltway and Interstate 95 south of Washington.
Maryland’s toll facilities were financed and constructed through revenue bonds. The outstanding principal and interest due each year is paid from toll revenues. Toll revenues are the primary source of funds. The MDTA’s toll receipts are pooled, and revenues from all seven facilities are combined to pay for operating, maintaining and making capital improvements to these facilities.