OCEAN CITY — The Route 90 bridge opened on Tuesday, three weeks ahead of schedule and just in time for the holidays, prompting town officials to have a little bit extra to be ‘thankful’ for.
In a little more than 40 days and 40 nights (41 to be exact), the State Highway Administration’s (SHA) two emergency contractors finished the replacement of a damaged 85-foot section of the Assawoman span of the 38-year-old Route 90 bridge, despite dodging a proverbial bullet during the recent “Friday the 13th storm.”
Regardless, the SHA gave the green light for crews to remove the blaze orange blockade barrels from the on and off ramps to the bridge on Coastal Highway in Ocean City on Tuesday afternoon, and traffic flowed on and off of the bridge for the first time since it was closed on Oct. 15.
When an official statement was released on Monday afternoon, the reaction seemed to be a unanimous sigh of relief.
“It exceeded our expectations, and I’m in the process of writing a ‘thank you’ letter to both Donnie Drewer [SHA District Engineer] and the governor [Martin O’Malley] for their immediate response,” said Mayor Rick Meehan. “The governor assured me that they would do everything they could to get it done, and the SHA did an absolutely fantastic job in getting the job done right and amazingly quick.”
Drewer is usually the one who answers the questions asked of the SHA if a job doesn’t get done on time or if a particular job is inconveniencing people, which in this case, it most certainly did, limiting the access to Ocean City at the extreme north (Routes 1 and 54) and south points (Route 50) of city limits. Admittedly, Drewer was breathing some of the heaviest sighs of relief this week.
“I’m just glad that it’s done, and we got it finished early for the holidays. We knew we’d have it done before Christmas, but to get it done before Thanksgiving, makes me very happy,” said Drewer.
Drewer, along with several other officials from the SHA, pointed to the exceptional work from the two contracted companies and a little bit of luck as the main reasons in getting the job done weeks ahead of schedule.
“Everything went right with this project, and the plan worked out exactly as it was supposed to, and that doesn’t always happen,” said Drewer. “The crews were fantastic and worked long and hard hours to get the job done according to the schedule and luckily everything went to script.”
The project would have been delayed about a week if the timing had not been perfect in completing a vital portion of the job just before the “storm of the decade” rolled in two weeks ago, according to SHA spokesperson David Buck.
“We got really lucky because we had just poured the concrete for the deck literally the day before the storm hit,” said Buck. “If you looked at pictures of the bridge the day before the storm, you realize just how close it was to being pushed back probably a week or so, as that had just enough time to settle and set before the heavy rains came in.”
Another aspect of the early completion, according to Buck, was that the most difficult part of the job was the removal of the damaged section and the replacement of the new portion into essentially an old bridge.
Buck said the hardest part was at the beginning of the job, and once that was done, everything moved rather quickly.
“The contracting crews worked what seemed like 24 hours a day and seven days a week, but the very calculated and precise parts of the job were fitting the new section into place, taking decided precaution to the fraction of a fraction fit that must be done to ensure that the new section doesn’t damage the older sections of the bridge on either side,” said Buck.
McLean Contracting of Glen Burnie, Md. and High Steel Structures Inc. of Lancaster, Pa. were awarded the $1.1 million emergency contract the same week that the bridge was closed in October, and some town officials are noting that the contract could have included some hefty incentives for early completion of the project.
Drewer conceded that he was unsure if the fine print of the contract included such an incentive or so-called bonus but seemed to think that if there was, it was well deserved.
“I’m honestly not sure as we had another department that drew up the fine points of the contract,” said Drewer. “What’s important to me is that the bridge is fixed, and by 2 p.m. on Tuesday, all this can start to be put behind us.”
It should be noted that for Meehan, who has seemingly taken on the dualization of Route 90 as one of his major talking points in the public and political realm, does not plan on allowing that issue to fade into the sunset with the memory of the bridge closure.
“Sometimes in Ocean City, it becomes out of sight, out of mind,” said Meehan, “but we can’t forget the danger that [the bridge closing] did from a business and from an evacuation standpoint. It emphasizes the importance of dualization and I am going to keep pursuing this and trying to at least get it on the drawing board as one of the future projects in the state.”