ANNAPOLIS — Queen Anne’s County officials welcomed the Maryland Transportation Authority’s announcement Tuesday afternoon, Oct. 29, that it is taking recommended steps to shorten the duration of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge rehabilitation project in response to Gov. Larry Hogan’s directive to expedite the project.
Those steps include adding extra crews working around the clock, working through Thanksgiving week, pushing forward with all-electronic tolling and promoting “Go Early, Stay Late” offers in partnership with the Maryland Department of Commerce.
“My most important responsibility is the safety of Maryland citizens,” Hogan said at the Oct. 16 Board of Public Works meeting. “Not taking action is not an option. But I am demanding that every effort must be taken to complete this project as soon as possible. And I am demanding that all the experts look at every possible solution that is feasible.”
“The safety of Marylanders is our top priority every day, which is exactly why we are moving forward on this urgent project,” said MDTA Executive Director Jim Ports in the announcement. “Gov. Hogan has directed us to look at every possible solution to expedite the project, and we are confident that these actions will allow us to make these repairs as quickly as we can and limit the impacts on local residents. We especially appreciate the input of the community, including Queen Anne’s County leaders, as we move forward with this project.”
“I am pleased that the governor has taken such proactive measures,” said Queen Anne’s County Commissioner Chris Corchiarino. The commissioners met with Ports and the governor’s chief of staff last week to discuss possible solutions, he said. “I’m glad to see they put some of their plans into action to try to speed up the repair process.”
Corchiarino said he was glad to see lots of details included in the news release, “so the public can better understand.”
“We’re all in this together,” he said.
Del. Steve Arentz, R-36-QA, said, “I do appreciate the governor’s help on this. This is a very serious issue for all of us. It’s not a short-term fix. His willingness to commit resources to address this serious problem demonstrates, I feel, he’s listening to the people affected by the bridge problem.”
He added, “We’re moving in the right direction.”
MDTA is in the process of replacing the bridge deck surface in the right lane of the westbound span. This work includes making deck repairs, sealing the bridge deck and replacing the lane-use signal gantries and steel rail posts.
The deck surface of the right lane has reached the end of its service like and is severely deteriorated, 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 much of the lane, half of the area is patched and deteriorated. Delaying the work would turn the deck into a more involved, lengthier and more costly full-depth re-decking, MDTA said.
“I think the bottom line is this is something that needs to be done,” Arentz said.
Going forward, the work will be done on both day and night shifts, seven days a week, using multiple crews, MDTA said.
“The 24/7 is under way,” said Kelly Melhem, MDTA spokesman. “Additional crews are already on the job.”
Crews will be making repairs simultaneously in multiple work zones in different areas of the lane. Very soon, crews will install jersey barrier and cones along the full length of the right lane so all four work zones can be implemented, Melhem said.
“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,” Ports said in a statement. “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.”
Mechanical milling can be done by crews during the day, but hydro-milling and concrete overlay both require two closed lanes, Melhem said.
MDTA hasn’t implemented contra-flow on the westbound span since the county commissioners asked it be stopped because of the gridlock it created on Kent Island and the long backups on U.S. Route 50 west. Contra-flow will be used only in emergencies and severe backups, Melhem said.
Arentz praised the move, “They’re looking at our problems and trying to help us the best they can.”
Crews will continue to work through Thanksgiving week, which is a huge time savings, according to MDTA engineers. The plan has the unanimous support of county commissioners. Original plans called for the full bridge to be open over the holiday.
Crews not only get an additional week of work, but they also save the weeks they would have had to stop ahead of Thanksgiving to prepare the road surface for travel and remove all the barriers, Melhem said.
“The working through Thanksgiving, we’re going to have some bad traffic,” said Corchiarino. But he added it would be worth it to get the project finished sooner.
He said travelers need to keep in mind the bridge is down a travel lane and plan accordingly.
Drivers should expect major delays in both directions throughout the holiday period, MDTA warned. Traffic volumes typically start to build as early as Tuesday that week. Wednesday and Friday are expected to be the heaviest days of travel east across the Bay Bridge, while Thursday through Sunday are expected to be the heaviest days of travel west.
Cashless tolling on Thursdays and Fridays will continue to start at noon but will now end at 8 p.m. instead of 10. The overnight closures of the westbound span have been expanded to start at 8 p.m. most nights, traffic permitting.
To help spread out travel to and from the Eastern Shore during the holiday season, the Maryland Department of Commerce’s Office of Tourism is coordinating new offers to encourage travelers to ‘Go Early, Stay Late,’ including enhancing its “Home for the Holidays” initiative.
“In light of current Bay Bridge travel patterns, we are working with our tourism partners on the Eastern Shore to encourage travelers to ‘Go Early, Stay Late,’” said Maryland Department of Commerce Secretary Kelly M. Schulz in a statement. “The Maryland Office of Tourism’s ‘Home for the Holidays’ initiative includes hotel packages and discounts in the Eastern Shore region, and promotion of events as a way to continue to draw visitors, while providing incentives for traveling during off-peak times.”
MDTA is developing an aggressive construction timeline for all-electronic tolling at the Bay Bridge as soon as possible.
First, workers will demolish specific toll booths to create wider lanes within the plaza and install overhead tolling gantries to implement cashless tolling full-time next year. Next, additional construction will take place to demolish the entire toll plaza, reconstruct the roadway and fill-in the toll collector access tunnel, MDTA said.
MDTA is continuing to talk with both Queen Anne’s and Anne Arundel elected officials to try to find a balanced approach for dealing with traffic volumes on both sides of the bridge.
Corchiarino said the commissioners also are meeting with Anne Arundel officials “to try to find where we can help each other.”
MDTA is working with the State Highway Administration and the Maryland State Police to improve the flow and direction of local traffic. SHA has dispatched additional CHART vehicles to address incidents on U.S. Route 50 and parallel routes during periods of peak traffic. MDTA and SHA teams also met Oct. 21 to discuss additional traffic and incident management coordination.
“The costs of the expedited plans are anticipated to be relatively low,” Melhem said, “especially when you consider the time and resources saved for the project as a whole.”
For the latest on Bay Bridge traffic, call 1-877-BAYSPAN (229-7726) or visit baybridge.com. To sign up for email/text alerts or to view real-time traffic camera images on MDTA roadways, visit mdta.maryland.gov.