OCEAN CITY – The State Highway Administration (SHA) appeared before the Mayor and Council Tuesday to present them with plans to close the Route 50 Bridge for repairs this winter.
“We need to take a look at the old Route 50 Bridge and do some work on it,” said SHA District Engineer Donnie Drewer, explaining there were inevitable repairs that had to be done in the near future.
According to Drewer, there are two major repairs that need attention, the grid deck and gears, and the latex overlay of the deck, which would occur in two phases.
Drewer explained that the first problem is planned to be addressed this January and would involve completely removing the grid deck and replacing four gears on the bridge. As a result, the bridge would need to be closed to vehicle traffic for 35 days and closed to marina traffic for 45 days.
“It will have a large impact on vehicle traffic,” Drewer said, conceding the inconvenience that will result from the repairs as well as the affect on downtown and West Ocean City businesses.
Drewer also noted the potential affect on emergency management. Drewer assured the council that emergency management would remain up to par by repositioning equipment and personnel to both sides of the bridge.
Ocean City Volunteer Fire Chief Chris Larmore explained that a full-time paramedic unit would be moved to Keyser Point Rd. in West Ocean City.
“I feel very comfortable that the citizens, in West Ocean City and Ocean City, will have equal or better service during that 35 days,” said Larmore.
Pending project funding, Drewer informed the council that SHA is unsure of an exact date at this time, but would have one within the next 30 days. The SHA currently estimates the bridge to be closed from January to February for 35 days.
“I know that this is an inconvenience but at the same token, the only time we can do this is in January and February,” Drewer said.
According to Drewer, the fear is if the gears aren’t fixed, they could break in the middle of the summer, resulting in the closing of the bridge for at least 35 days during the town’s peak season.
“This is the most practical way to do these repairs,” Drewer said, explaining that alternatives would have more adverse effects on traffic.
Drewer explained that the alternative option would be a four-month repair, with one lane open. According to Drewer, this option would be much more costly and would have an adverse affect on marina traffic as well.
“Really it’s a matter of money and time,” Drewer said, explaining that the plan hinges on funding.
According to Drewer, SHA is still waiting for a final price from the contractor before making any final decisions on the plans. Their hope, however, is that the final price will fall within budget and that the state will be able to proceed with the 35-day proposed plan.
“I feel that 35 days in January is nothing compared to two days in the summer,” said Council President Joe Mitrecic.
Councilman Jay Hancock agreed, citing the mid-summer break possibility.
“It’s going to be an inconvenience but people need to recognize the bigger inconvenience if it happened in the summer,” said Hancock. “I think you’ve played out a well thought out plan.”
The council agreed the proposed plan to close the bridge for 35 days appeared to be the best option.