Days after Maryland’s Bay Bridge rehabilitation project launched– and caused epic weekend backups– state transportation leaders announce steps to alleviate the traffic nightmare.
The Maryland Transportation Authority (MDTA) has been warning drivers for weeks to expect heavy delays from the planned $27 million bridge re-decking project, which got underway this past week. That’s because the work would squeeze down the westbound lanes, making two-way operations unsafe.
The predicted delays came to fruition, and then some, on Friday, with a summer-weather weekend drawing people to the Eastern Shore and eastbound commuters trying to get home. At times, the delays on Route 50 East backed up 12 miles, all the way to I-97. The “bailout” routes around Annapolis were also gridlocked. Things got so bad that MDTA took the unusual step of waiving tolls in order to get eastbound bridge traffic moving again.
On Tuesday, MDTA released a new plan in hopes of avoiding a repeat of Friday’s mess. The agency will use cashless tolling at the Bay Bridge on Fridays and Saturdays from noon to 10 p.m. E-ZPass users will pass through as usual, and cash drivers will go through the toll plaza without stopping. Instead, MDTA explains, “Cash drivers will still get the $4 rate and will be sent a statement in the mail. Drivers are encouraged to get a free E-ZPass transponder at ezpassmd.com to simplify toll payments.”
MDTA also says on Thursdays and Fridays, when backups are severe, MDTA will allow two-way operations after all, but drivers must use reduced speeds of 25 to 35 miles per hour (police will patrol to enforce the speed reduction). Commercial trucks will not be allowed to use the westbound span during two-way operations; they’ll be notified using the system currently in place during wind restrictions.
MDTA says it will monitor traffic and MDTA Police will work closely with Maryland State Police, Anne Arundel County Police Department and Queen Anne’s County Sheriff’s Office.
Despite the changes to the planned traffic patterns, MDTA wants people to be prepared to wait.
“As we have communicated throughout the summer, drivers should still expect to encounter heavy congestion and delays throughout the project,” the agency reiterates.
The two-year rehabilitation project is funded by toll proceeds. It will replace the bridge deck surface of the westbound right lane, an also make deck repairs, seal the bridge deck and replace existing lane-use signal gantries and steel rail posts. The work is being performed by Wagman Heavy Civil Inc.
The current traffic pattern is expected to last until May, when the lane closures will be lifted through beach season, and then closures will resume for the fall and winter of 2020- 2021.
-Meg Walburn Viviano