ANNAPOLIS — Queen Anne’s County officials welcomed the governor’s intervention in the $27 million Bay Bridge rehabilitation project that has frequently left traffic at a standstill on Kent Island. Gov. Larry Hogan outlined a plan at the Board of Public Works meeting Wednesday, Oct. 16, to expedite the Bay Bridge maintenance project so traffic gridlock can be relieved.
He called for 24-hour a day work, elimination of toll booths in favor of electronic tolls and told state agencies to coordinate with local governments to help move the traffic.
The work on the Bay Bridge has caused Queen Anne’s County students to be late both getting to school and getting home, Eastern Shore residents to be late for work and secondary roads to be clogged with with bumper-to-bumper traffic.
“Citizens from 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,” Hogan said. “I want people to know that I too am frustrated and angry. I’m furious about it. The idea that this could continue for the next two years makes it all the more unacceptable.
“I am demanding that every effort must be taken to complete this project as soon as possible,” he said. “And I am demanding that all the experts look at every possible solution that is feasible.
“I have directed the Maryland Department of Transportation to make sure that the contractor is working 24 hours a day and that they are expediting this project,” he said. “We have asked them to study solutions like faster drying concrete.
“I am directing that we eliminate all the toll booths all together and that we move fully to electronic tolling at the Bay Bridge as soon as possible,” he said. “I am directing MDOT, SHA, and the Maryland State Police to assist and coordinate with MDTA and local governments in helping to move the traffic.”
Hogan said the conditions on the bridge are worsening, and repairs cannot be delayed. He calls safety his, “Most important responsibility” as governor.
“If neglected any longer, the crisis could go from terrible and unbearable to catastrophic and life-threatening,” he said. “There is no real positive solution to make these problems and the traffic backups magically disappear. We have a local elected official in Anne Arundel County who opposes building a new bridge, opposes fixing the existing bridge and fantasizes about ferries.”
Hogan also criticized the contraflow plan.
“Anne Arundel County, which has more than 11 times the population of Queen Anne’s County, instituted contraflow, which did relieve the western side, but caused massive traffic on the Shore,” he said. “I have directed the traffic engineers and the intergovernmental team, to work together with and negotiate between these local leaders in both counties, to find a statistical balance in order to share the pain, and to not unfairly target one side.”
The Queen Anne’s County Commissioners endorsed Hogan’s plan.
“We fully support working 24/7 on this very vital artery crossing the Chesapeake Bay, and we would like to see more than one location being worked on at a time. This bridge is about 4.5 miles long and if we are serious about getting this project done as quickly as possible why are we not working in three — four locations at a time? This is the second most asked question to the county commissioners,” Commissioner Jim Moran said Wednesday afternoon.
“The biggest issue with this project has become the traffic back ups in Queen Anne’s County, especially Kent Island. We only get these massive back ups when contraflow is in operation and westbound traffic goes down to only one lane crossing the Bay Bridge. We feel that if contra flow is necessary then the Route 50 westbound ramps to Route 18 must be closed,” Moran continued. “If those ramps are closed and access is only for county residents, we could keep through traffic on 50 and off of 18 and out of our communities. This will allow our school buses, emergency services, businesses and citizens to have greater mobility and less disruption in their daily lives.”
Sen. Steve Hershey, R-36-Queen Anne’s, praised the governor’s response to the Bay Bridge issues.
“We were confident the Governor was hearing us, he realizes and expects us to be vocal in the representation of our communities. We are appreciative that he didn’t just respond with reactionary rhetoric, but conversely he assessed the situation and is taking action with thoughtful and meaningful solutions,” Hershey said in an emailed statement.
Hershey said he is glad to see some of the local suggestions had been relayed to Hogan and that he expects to see immediate and long standing improvements.
“As late as yesterday at our meeting in Caroline County with MDOT, I once again requested that MDTA evaluate weekday morning contraflow on the eastbound span and renewed our plea to immediately move to full time, all electronic tolling and eliminate the toll booths, frankly this should have been done before this project began,” Hershey said.
Hershey seconded Moran’s call for a more hands-on approach to the traffic problem.
“I believe more than anything the governor’s directive that the state’s transportation agencies and the Maryland State Police assist and coordinate with local governments in helping to move traffic provides the greatest potential to reducing the gridlock we are currently experiencing on Kent Island. We can’t rely only on traffic lights and signaling. We need a boots on the ground approach to monitoring which vehicles are using the Route 50 off-ramps and side roads, manually directing traffic on and around the Route 8 overpass and ensuring EMS, fire and life safety vehicles can quickly and safely navigate throughout the area,” Hershey said.
By late afternoon Wednesday MDTA was moving “full steam ahead” to follow through with Hogan’s directions, according MDTA Executive Director Jim Ports.
“We will redouble our work with elected officials and our partners in both Anne Arundel and Queen Anne’s counties to minimize impacts as much as possible to our drivers and communities, while ensuring the safety of workers who are on the bridge day and night, the safety of our motorists who rely on the bridge, and the integrity of the bridge itself,” Ports said in an emailed statement.
“Discussions are underway with our contractor to explore all alternate milling methods and overlay materials and to get multiple work zones up and running to ensure 24/7 progress and shorten the project duration. This will allow crews to mill the deck surface, make steel repairs, apply the deck overlay and cure the new surface simultaneously in different areas of the lane. The MDTA waited as long as possible in the year to start the work, balancing traffic volumes with the temperature sensitivity of the overlay material,” Ports continued.
“We’re looking forward to implementing all electronic tolling full-time at the Bay Bridge and are aggressively developing a construction timeline. As part of this implementation, we’ll make a variety of opportunities available for drivers to get their free E-ZPass transponder before cashless tolling is in place.”
The right lane of the westbound span closed Sept. 30 for what was projected as a two-year project. The deck surface of the lane has reached the end of its service life, MDTA said. This presents a number of safety risks, given the frequency of patching and emergency holding patches. In one section of the lane, 75 percent of the area is patched and deteriorated. In most of the lane, half of the area is patched and deteriorated.
Based on exhaustive testing — visual observations, hands-on inspections and soundings of the deck surface, deck cores, and infrared camera studies — the condition of the right lane is worsening and warrants repair now to ensure safe travel, MDTA said.