Earlier Start Date For Bridge Work Proposed

OCEAN CITY – It is now a certainty the Route 50 bridge will be completely closed this winter for an estimated 35 days after funding was approved by the state, but an effort is underway to urge state officials to move the start date for the project up to help ensure its closure to does not overlap with the traditionally busiest winter weekends.

Ocean City Mayor Rick Meehan during Monday’s Tourism Summit in the resort confirmed the proposed bridge closure had moved from possibility to reality and State Highway Administration (SHA) District Engineer Donnie Drewer reiterated the point on Tuesday during the state transportation officials’ annual meeting with the County Commissioners.

Major repairs are needed on the bridge including replacing four gears on the draw span. The repairs are needed sooner rather than later and will take an estimated 35 days, meaning the bridge will be closed for at least that long.

The proposed plan includes closing the bridge from mid-January to mid-February, and while most agree the time is right to do the project given the alternatives, there is an effort underway to urge state officials to move the proposed start date up closer to the beginning of January to help ensure the project is completed before one of the biggest weekends of the winter in February including Valentine’s Day, Presidents Day and the Seaside Boat Show.

The big three all fall around the same four- or five-day span in February next year starting with Valentine’s Day on Thursday, Feb. 14. The Seaside Boat Show runs from Friday, Feb. 15 to Sunday, Feb. 17, and the official Presidents Day holiday falls on Monday, Feb. 18. The trio has combined to become one of the busiest weekends of the winter in the resort area.

Francis Scott Key Motel owner Anne Marie Dickerson said during Monday’s Tourism Summit her business has already felt the impact of the proposed bridge closure and urged her colleagues to push for an earlier start date.

“I think they need to consider backing up the bridge closure closer to the beginning of January,” she said. “We’ve already lost 100 rented rooms because of concerns about the bridge and we’re trying not to lose Valentine’s and President’s Day weekend.”

Meehan agreed moving the start date up for the project could lessen the impact on the business community.

“It’s now inevitable, so let’s get it done and get it done quickly,” he said. “We know it’s going to be an inconvenience. We’re talking about 35 days, but we need to bite the bullet and get it done in the least disruptive way.”

During a meeting with state transportation officials on Tuesday, Commissioner Louise Gulyas implored Drewer to find a way to keep at least one lane of the bridge open to traffic during the project.

“If there is any way you can keep the bridge open, I would appreciate it,” she said. “So many people work out in the county. It’s going to be such a hardship.”

However, Drewer explained there is no getting around a complete closure of the bridge.

“There is no easy way to do this except shut the bridge down,” he said. “We have to completely remove the draw span that goes up.”

However, Drewer said SHA understands the impact on residents and the business community and will make every effort to ensure the project moves ahead expediently.

“We will work as hard and fast as we can to complete the bridge in a timely fashion,” he said. “We will try, though we cannot guarantee, to get started and completed before Presidents Day.”