STEVENSVILLE — Commuters reported travel times ranging from an extra five minutes to an hour Monday, Sept. 30, when the full closure of the right lane of the westbound Bay Bridge span commenced for the Maryland Transportation Authority’s $27 million deck rehabilitation project. The full right-lane closure continues through April 2020, except during the Thanksgiving holiday.
Westbound backups were reported as far east as the Xtra Mart in Chester, nearly the width of Kent Island. Residents were late for work, school and doctor appointments.
Nancy Koval of Chester said she left her house at 6:35 a.m. to go to work in Annapolis, Riva Road area. What is normally a 20 minute drive took her 45 minutes. Her husband, former Queen Anne’s County Commissioner Mike Koval, started out for Bowie at 7:30 a.m., found traffic at a standstill and turned around and went back home. He tried again at 9:30 a.m. and made it to Bowie with only a 10 minute delay.
Rita Hepfinger Grau said her daughter was late for her doctor’s appointment and it took her son-in-law an extra hour to get to Baltimore even though he left before 6:30 a.m.
Emily McAuley said the circle at Castle Marina was difficult to get through as local roads backed up. “I left at 7:30 a.m. and got to work off Riva Rd, Annapolis, 25 minutes late,” she reported on the Bay Times Facebook page. “Looked like buses were backed up too.”
Tiffany Wayson said she couldn’t leave early because she has to put a child on the school bus. She has other children who attend a special needs school in Millersville, and the normally 40-minute commute took her an extra 25 minutes.
Brandie Martensson said traffic was backed up on Route 8 to the intersection of Main Street at 7:30 a.m. It took her 15 minutes to get onto U.S. Route 50.
Lizzy Walsh said it took her half an hour just to go from Castle Marina to the bridge at 7:30 a.m.
Tom Conway said when he approached the bridge at 7 a.m. traffic was backed up to the Main Street/Route 18 overpass in Chester. “In addition during my time sitting in that traffic, two fire engines were responding to a call and had to pick their way through the backup, obviously delaying their response by several minutes,” he wrote.
Michael Bordenski said he left Greensboro at 6:30 a.m. and got to Annapolis at 8 a.m., “a good half hour more than my normal commute.” He said he hopes officials will make adjustments as they see the backups.
Amy Smith Mayo said she began seeing brake lights around the Piney Creek exit at 7:45 a.m., and stop and go traffic began in the vicinity of Chester Station. Her morning commute took an extra 15 minutes.
Both she and Lizzy Pritchard said once you finally got to the bridge, it was smooth sailing.
Dawn Patchen, who left Kent Island for Baltimore at 5:30 a.m., and Traci Bell Jacobs, who left the park and ride at 6:20 a.m., reported no delays. They beat the backup.
Queen Anne’s County Superintendent of Schools Dr. Andrea Kane sent a letter home with students Friday asking parents to update their contact information, be prepared for bus delays and make sure a responsible adult is available to meet small children at their bus stops.
“Please be advised that any major traffic delays caused by the Bay Bridge rehabilitation project will likely cause delays for bus transportation services within all of Queen Anne’s County Public Schools (QACPS). As traffic delays occur this may affect pick up and/or drop off times. Please ensure that you have updated your contact information for each child (emergency contact, work number, cell phone number, email address, etc.) within PowerSchool/InfoSnap,” she wrote.
“Parents who anticipate delays in their ability to pick up students from the bus stop in grades Pre- K — 2 should provide their child’s school with the contact information of an authorized adult who can be available to meet their child at the bus stop. Student safety is our paramount concern. Parents and caregivers may expect communication via School Messenger when bus schedules are impacted.”
MDTA warned that commuters adjusting their schedules to avoid delays due to the re-decking project should be aware the entire westbound span will be shut down every night . The westbound span will close between 9 and 11 p.m. nightly and reopen at 5 a.m.
During the closure, two-way traffic will operate on the eastbound span, limiting eastbound and westbound travel to one lane in each direction. Expect major delays in both directions, MDTA said.
With two-way operations suspended on the Bay Bridge since Sept. 24, eastbound evening commutes have been reported taking twice as long as usual, but Friday the backup reached nightmare proportions, extending beyond the I-97 exit in Annapolis.
Delays were reported as early as 1:30 in the afternoon and only got worse as the day wore on and more commuters and vacationers joined in the mix.
Maryland Transportation Secretary and Maryland Transportation Authority Chairman Pete K. Rahn got involved, directing State Highways Administrator Greg Slater and Maryland Transportation Authority Executive Director Jim Ports to find a way to address the heavy traffic volumes.
At 8:30 p.m., Rahn ordered tolls waived at the Bay Bridge until the backups cleared. MDTA Bay Bridge operations officially waived tolls from 8:52 p.m. to 11:20 p.m. when the backups cleared, according to Erin Henson, MDOT director of public affairs.
SHA dispatched additional CHART (Coordinated Highways Action Response Teams) vehicles to handle incidents on U.S. Route 50 and parallel routes. SHA also asked Maryland State Police and Anne Arundel County Police to help them keep traffic moving. Those measures also will be used in handling future backups, Henson said.
MDOT announced, “Moving forward during Bay Bridge construction, when the traffic backs up to I-97, the MDTA will hold traffic westbound for short periods to allow three lanes of eastbound traffic until backups clear unless prevented by severe weather conditions.”
Frustrated motorists stuck in the backups had already taken to social media to express their feelings, and they were quick to respond.
“What the heck were you doing all day after seeing yesterday’s problems? Too little too late,” tweeted Jim Franke. “Everyone who commutes knew this was going to be a mess. Why didn’t you?”
Dawn Myers tweeted, “When the bridge traffic backs up to 97, it takes an hour to go 9 miles. How is this considered an acceptable solution?!?!”
Dennis Halbig called it, “Poor management at its finest ….”
Heather Weber responded, “So the solution is to back up traffic going west bound which results in people getting off 50 and going thru neighborhoods on KI in the afternoons?”
MDTA did not offer solutions for travelers headed west.
The westbound right lane will be mostly reopened for the summer travel season from Memorial Day weekend to Labor Day 2020. Some temporary lane closures are likely to occur during off-peak hours, according to MDTA.
Similar closures will occur in fall 2020 and spring 2021, with an estimated project completion in August 2021, MDTA said.