OCEAN CITY — Long term repairs to the failing part on the draw span of the Route 50 Bridge will take place this fall or early winter, according to State Highway Administration (SHA) officials, although no firm timetable or the scope of the potential interruptions to traffic both on the bridge and in the water have been determined.
In the wake of the July 26 failure of the Route 50 Bridge, which was stuck in the open position for about five hours at the peak time on a peak Saturday, SHA engineers determined the failure was caused by a cracked mount on the draw span’s drive shaft. The cracked mount was temporarily repaired that night and into the next morning in order to render the drawbridge serviceable and SHA officials remain confident the temporary fix will operate properly until large, long-term repairs are made.
SHA and its private sector engineering firm that maintains the bridge determined the failed mount and three others on each corner of the drawbridge would ultimately need to be replaced. Replacing and repairing the four drive shaft mounts will likely take several hours, perhaps even overnight, leaving SHA officials with a decision to make on the timing.
In the days following the bridge failure on July 26, SHA officials were wrestling with the decision on the timing of the needed repairs. One option was going in this month and completing the repairs despite the potential impact on peak summer traffic on one of three main entrances into the resort. That option would require a complete closure, likely overnight from roughly 10 p.m. until 7 a.m. the following morning.
The second option was waiting until after Labor Day sometime in the fall or early winter to complete the needed repairs. With full confidence in the temporary fix on the failed drive-shaft mount, and summer hitting its peak this week and through August, a preliminary decision has been made to put off the repairs until after the season although no final plans have been formalized.
“We are scheduling long-term repairs for this fall or winter,” said SHA spokesman David Buck on Monday. “We continue to finalize the scope of the work.”
Buck said the timing of the project will depend on a variety of factors and the decision will be made based on the least impact to motorists and boaters.
“At this point, we are in the conceptual stage and not certain of the traffic and/or marine impacts,” he said. “SHA will work closely with the Town of Ocean City to have the least impact to vehicular and marine traffic. Our office will provide advance warning to the media and residents, motorists and boaters well in advance of any work.”
Shortly after 3 p.m. on Saturday, July 26, the Route 50 drawbridge got stuck in the up position while it was being closed following a routine opening. The malfunctioning bridge almost immediately caused heavy resort traffic on a busy Saturday afternoon in late July to back up along Route 50 and the dominoes toppled backward to Routes 589 and 90, and along Route 113 to Route 54 and Lower Delaware as motorists attempted to find alternative routes into Ocean City, essentially causing gridlock across much of northern Worcester County.
The bridge remained stuck in the open position for about five hours until SHA’s private-sector engineering firm Covington, which routinely maintains and inspects the bridge, could get on scene to analyze the problem. In an otherwise luckless situation, the chief engineer was on vacation in Ocean City and was fishing offshore before he was brought in to being assessing the problem with the bridge.
Around 8 p.m., with the traffic backups now spiraling in every direction in and around the resort area, the decision was made to hand-crank the broken span into the closed position to begin allowing vehicles to access the bridge in and out of the resort. At 10 p.m., the bridge was hand-cranked to the open position again to allow boats caught on the south side of the span to get back into their marinas and ports. Anecdotally, some fishing boats and larger vessels were forced to put in at marinas south of the bridge and in West Ocean City and were brought back on Sunday when the bridge was operational again.
Buck said the problem was caused by a cracked mount on the drawbridge’s drive shaft that would not allow the span to be lowered. He compared the part to a mount on the drive shaft of a truck and said there were four of them on the drawbridge’s mechanical system that allows the span to be raised and lowered.
The instant knee-jerk reaction from the thousands of motorists stranded on either side of the broken span that Saturday is that the time is now to replace the Route 50 bridge built in the 1940s. There is a plan in place to replace the bridge, but that is likely around 20 years out. In the meantime, the drawbridge component will be upgraded, maintained and repaired as necessary.