OCEAN CITY – Despite periodic rain over the last week or so, State Highway Administration (SHA) crews finished the ongoing Route 50 bridge project late yesterday with only the lane markings left to do a few weeks ahead of schedule and just in time for the arrival of Springfest 2009.
SHA District Engineer Donnie Drewer said yesterday the re-decking component of the work on the Harry Kelley Memorial Bridge, which has kept the eastbound lanes of the span closed since mid-February, had been completed and the only chore left from keeping all of the lanes of the bridge open in time for the big weekend was striping and marking the lanes.
“We should have the bridge completely open by Thursday afternoon,” he said. “We’ve got the crews ready to come in and put down the markings and it shouldn’t take more than a couple of hours. The surface is supposed to be dry for 24 hours before we put any paint down, but there are ways of getting around that. One way or the other, we’ll have it open this afternoon.”
SHA officials announced in February the eastbound lanes of the span would be closed for as long as three months as construction crews picked up where they left off last winter and spring with the vast re-decking project. Last year, the westbound lanes of the bridge were closed from the end of February to around the end of March when the project was completed well ahead of its mid-May timetable.
The second phase began on February 16 this year, forcing a complete closure of the eastbound lanes of the span. During the life of the project, the westbound lanes of the bridge remained open with one lane of traffic in either direction. The narrow lanes created headaches and anxiety for motorists who utilize the span day in and day out in what has become a way of life during the last two late winters and early springs.
Despite an unusually wet spring, crews were putting the finishing touches on the re-decking project this week and the concrete Jersey walls that separated the open lanes from those being resurfaced were removed and replaced with the less intimidating, familiar orange barrels. If the weather presented a window to paint the lane markings, those barrels were expected to disappear yesterday afternoon in time for what is typically one of the biggest weekends of the spring. Drewer did not rule out opening all lanes of the bridge without the lane markings.
“I said from the beginning we were going to do everything we could to have that bridge open by Springfest weekend and it appears we have made that goal unless something happens in the next 24 hours,” said Drewer on Wednesday. “For a while, it didn’t look like we were going to make it, but we got the ball rolling pretty good there in the last week or so.”
Despite the completion of the resurfacing project and improvements to the sidewalks on the south side of the span, work will continue on the Route 50 bridge for at least a few more weeks as crews make improvements to the sidewalks on the north side. Drewer said the work will be done during the daytime hours during which some lane closures will be likely, although nothing like the complete closures locals and visitors have been dealing with for the last three months.
While work on the Route 50 Bridge nears completion, a new source of highway headaches in the resort area could just be getting started. Drewer said a major resurfacing project along Route 90 including the bridges into Ocean City would get started on Sunday night. The entire length of the highway including the two bridges will be repaved, and although some lane closures and detours will be inevitable, SHA officials have taken steps to minimize the impacts on motorists.
“We’ll be working only at night and not on the weekends,” said Drewer. “We’re going to start milling Route 90 on Sunday night and, again with decent weather, we should be able to get in and out of there pretty quickly. We expect to have it completed by the first week of June.”
Drewer said the geographic limitations of the corridor will likely result in some detours during which sections of the highway will be closed entirely.
“Once we get into those sections with guardrails, we’ll have to do some closures with detours,” he said. “We just don’t have any choice. There’s no way of getting around the crews in those sections and there might be some times when traffic is detoured around Route 589 to Route 50 to access Ocean City that way. There won’t be many and they won’t last long, but there likely will be some detours.”
With the Route 50 bridge project nearing completion and the Route 90 project ready to begin, Drewer said this week another highway project is set to get underway. Last year, SHA crews milled down Route 50 from Herring Creek to the bridge and laid down a first layer of new pavement before changes in the weather forced them to shut it down. Next week, crews are expected to finish the repaving project along Route 50 from Herring Creek to the bridge in what will also cause some lane closures. In addition, crews are expected to go back and repave the access points along Route 50 that were milled but never resurfaced during the first phase of the project last year.