Bay Bridge delays: MDOT explains, Hogan demands

Submitted to Dorchester Banner/MDTA
Work is continuing to replace the deck of one lane on the Bay Bridge’s westbound span. Extensive delays have resulted.

CAMBRIDGE — At Tuesday’s meeting of the Dorchester County Council, representatives from the Maryland Department of Transportation gave a comprehensive update on the agency’s activities and goals. Among the information they shared was an explanation of the maintenance work continuing on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge.

The job involves replacing sections of the bridge’s deck, which has closed one lane of the westbound span. This has resulted in backups sometimes miles long in each direction.

Planning & Program Development Director Melissa Williams from the Maryland Transportation Authority (MDTA) said, “This is a critical project which involves replacing the deck surface of the westbound span’s right lane. The lane is closed, 24/7, now through April, with additional closures Monday through Friday in May.”

“We understand the concerns about the impact of this project on mobility for your citizens,” she said. “With that in mind, we established a work schedule to help reduce the impact on the surrounding counties as much as possible.”

The $27 million Bay Bridge rehabilitation project includes deck repairs, sealing the deck and replacing existing lane signal gantries and steel rail posts.
To help keep traffic flowing, MDTA has implemented cashless tolling at the Bay Bridge from noon to 10 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays for the duration of the project. All tolls will be collected via E-ZPass and video tolling. Drivers who usually pay with cash can move through the plaza without stopping. They are mailed a statement and are charged the cash rate, a statement from MDOT said.

Additionally, under severe backups and with weather permitting, MDTA will allow two-way operations on the westbound span, so traffic can move in both directions at speeds of 25 to 35 mph, providing three lanes eastbound and one westbound.

Affect on truckers
Under normal operations, commercial vehicles are not permitted to travel eastbound on the westbound span during two-way operations. During this two-way operation, due to narrow lanes, commercial trucks and buses will not be allowed to cross westbound, either.

While delays have affected all motorists, commercial drivers have faced unique challenges. Long delays or detours have affected Eastern Shore companies that find their trucks unable to keep to schedules because of the project.

“I have had some local business owners contact me. It hit them as a real surprise that they wanted to go over, and all commercial traffic was stopped was from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., or whatever,” Council Member Lenny Pfeffer said. He asked for clear and early communication to companies, citing as an example one that sends 13 trucks a day across the bridge.

“When they couldn’t get those 13 trucks a day back across the bridge, that’s a real problem,” Mr. Pfeffer said.

Ms. Williams said MDTA will reach out to commercial vehicle operators via its notification system, and has a new tool that allows commercial operators to subscribe to #BayBridgeWork to get text and email updates, “giving them more time to make their decisions.”

Hogan demands action
Drivers’ complaints about the delays have reached the highest level of state government.

On Wednesday, Gov. Larry Hogan released a statement, saying, “Citizens in Anne Arundel County, Queen Anne’s County, and from across the state are frustrated and angry over the sometimes unbearable backups at the Bay Bridge. I want you to know that I am too.

“Today I am taking action to demand that every effort be taken to complete this project as soon as possible, and I am directing all the engineers and experts to look at every possible solution that is feasible.

“I have directed the Maryland Department of Transportation to make sure the contractor is working 24 hours a day and that they are expediting it. We have asked them to study solutions like faster drying concrete.

“I am directing that we eliminate all the toll booths altogether and that we move fully to electronic tolling at the bay bridge as soon as possible. I am directing the State Highway Administration and the Maryland State Police and all relevant state agencies to assist and coordinate with the Maryland Transportation Authority and local governments in helping traffic to move.

“I have also tasked every agency and all state employees and contractors involved in this project to take every possible step to minimize its impact on citizens and to aggressively communicate the steps being taken.

“This can not be delayed another decade, and we can not put Marylanders’ safety at risk. But I will continue to push the entire state government to do everything possible to mitigate the pain, shorten the time frame, and to expedite the completion of these critical safety repairs.”

Another bridge?
Also at MDTA, Governor Hogan’s latest proposed toll rate reductions could save Marylanders $28 million over the next five years. The proposal to reduce tolls for a third time under the Hogan administration is scheduled to be voted on by the MDTA Board on Nov. 21, MDOT’s statement said.

A Tier 1 National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) study of location and funding options for a third Chesapeake Bay crossing is moving forward, with three corridors and a “no-build” option now being reviewed. Public open houses on the options are being held through this month. Information is available at baycrossingstudy.com.

Dave Ryan is editor of the Dorchester Banner. He can be reached at dryan@newszap.com.

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