Many of you have been asking some very relevant questions and sharing your frustrations with the current conditions surrounding the Chesapeake Bay Bridge. I am in full agreement that the lack of planning and preparation in advance of this project was unacceptable and has led to deplorable commuting and traveling conditions on Kent Island and throughout the area.
The 36th District Delegation along with the Queen Anne’s County Commissioners recently met with Maryland Transportation Authority Executive Director Jim Ports to express our concerns with $27 million Chesapeake Bay Bridge rehabilitation project to replace the deck surface of the westbound span right lane.
During this meeting, we were able to convey the many concerns we’ve been hearing from our constituents, whether through calls, letters or emails to our offices, personal meetings or what we’ve been reading on social media.
Everyone that we’ve heard from has very valid concerns and there are already several stories of the many ways the lives of those in this community have been impacted even in just the first several days of this two-year project.
One of the main concerns we’ve been hearing is, “Are there other alternatives to the method, schedule and timing of the bridge rehabilitation project?” So we thought it necessary that we clarify the actual project since many have also asked “Why haven’t we seen this type of complete lane closure on other redecking projects?” or “Why can’t they reopen the lanes each morning?” MdTA’s response first and foremost is that this is not a redecking project, but rather an overlay or resurfacing project.
An overlay project differs from redecking project, where sections are removed and replaced with performed concrete sections and then covered with temporary steel plates. An overlay is less intrusive, less expensive and more comparable to the milling and resurfacing of a highway.
During the overlay, the concrete surface will be water-blasted to remove the top few inches and expose the steel rebar. After the rebar is cleaned, a modified latex compound, which is less porous than concrete and better seals the rebar while forming a tighter bond to the exposed concrete, is poured. This compound is then covered with burlap. The new concrete surface is not traffic bearing until the concrete cure is complete.
The cure period is five days (two days wet/three days open air) this makes it impossible to perform the work in a four-day (Monday-Thursday) time period and have the lane reopened for weekend traffic.
So that’s what’s happening. We’ve been told the bridge surface must be repaired so options of delaying or postponing the project are not likely.
With that in mind we asked a number of additional questions and while proposing other alternatives.
We asked is there anything we can do to shorten the two-year timeframe? The response was “possibly.” The MdTA will evaluate a potential project modification that may allow this lane to be completed by mid-May. However, this would extend past the currently scheduled April completion date and would most likely eliminate the re-opening of this lane for the Thanksgiving holiday.
We asked if there is anyway to enable contra-flow, or two-way traffic, on the west bound span during the busiest times of east bound traffic? The response was “yes.” The MdTA will enable contra-flow traffic by allowing drivers to travel east and west on the westbound span at reduced speeds of 25 to 35 mph. This will provide three lanes eastbound and one lane westbound for short periods of time to reduce eastbound backups.
Trucks will not be able to cross the Bay during the times when contra-flow is in operation. Truck drivers will be notified through signs, social media and the same manners in which they are notified about wind restrictions.
We suggested that since MdTA has moved to all-electronic toll collection at its other facilities, could they switch directly to cashless tolling now? The response was “We will, but under certain circumstances.” The MdTA will now go to cashless tolling on Thursdays and Fridays from noon to 10 p.m. During these times vehicles will not have to stop at the toll booths, the toll plaza will be reduced from 12 booths to only the six booths furthest to the left. Drivers without E-ZPass will be billed separately for each unpaid toll, the transaction fee and penalty will not be charged during these specific cashless tolling timeframes.
We implored the MdTA to find a way to keep our local roads, namely state Route 18, free from U.S. Route 50 traffic and open to emergency responses and citizens conducting daily activities such as commuting and routine errands. Unfortunately, the MdTA didn’t acknowledge a possible solution during our meeting, but committed to evaluating and seeking ways to specifically address this.
We all agreed that the communication, from the time a “major renovation project” was rumored; to the time of MdTA’s unexpected announcement on social media, could have been better. As a result, I will introduce in the Senate and Del. Steve Arentz will cross-file in the House, a bill to repurpose and restructure the Bay Bridge Reconstruction Advisory Group (BBRAG). This citizen-based advisory group should have been advised and informed of this overlay project well before the surprising announcement.
We will also require the MdTA to consider all forms of transportation alternatives, tolling methods, scheduling and timing prior to commencing any future rehabilitation projects.
This legislation will force the MdTA to include the BBRAG in these discussions and assure the elected officials in both Queen Anne’s and Anne Arundel counties are appropriately included in future projects.
As a delegation and your state representatives, we are attempting to gather as much information as possible to address your concerns. This rehabilitation project and the traffic related problems are unfortunate and annoying, but ultimately necessary.
We have also shared your frustrations along with our concerns and suggestions with Gov. Larry Hogan. We have asked him to make addressing the problems associated with this project his top priority.
We will continue to do our best to facilitate any changes that will make commuting and traveling on and around the Bay Bridge as safe, predicable and convenient as possible.
State Sen. Steve Hershey represents the 36th District, comprising Caroline, Queen Anne's, Kent and Cecil counties.