OCEAN CITY – While there has been considerable debate about the impact of closing the Route 50 Bridge for five weeks in January and February from a traffic standpoint, little has been said or written about the closure of the span to marine traffic, but the U.S. Coast Guard announced this week a public comment period for navigational impacts is now open and will remain so until Dec. 24.
The bridge will be closed to vehicle traffic for roughly 35 days from mid-January to mid-February to facilitate an extensive rehabilitation and repair project, but the bridge will be closed to marine traffic passing underneath the span for an estimated 45 days. Granted, there is little marine traffic in the area during the anticipated closure period, but local boat owners have been invited to weigh in on the potential impacts.
The Coast Guard’s public comment period on the project opened this week and will remain open until Dec. 24. Coast Guard spokeswoman Sandra Elliott said this week protocol calls for the public comment period, but thus far, there has been no feedback from the boating community.
“We sent the notice out through a variety of resources and it’s been distributed fairly extensively, but so far we have not received a single comment, either by email or by phone,” she said yesterday. “We haven’t seen any response yet whatsoever.”
Elliott said work on the bridge will prevent the draw span from opening and closing during the entire length of the rehabilitation project, but boat traffic under the span would not be completely cut off. Vessels with a vertical height of 13 feet or lower will be able to pass under the bridge unabated, although they may have to choose a different channel. Vessels taller than 13 feet hoping to gain access to the back bays from the ocean will have to choose an alternative route, likely through the Indian River Inlet in Delaware.
“I’m sure it will impact some boaters, but there isn’t a lot of activity in that area during the project’s timeline,” she said. “There will be alternatives. We just have to make sure everybody is aware of the alternatives and that they have an opportunity to weigh in on the project.”
Major repairs are needed to the decade’s old bridge including replacing four gears on the draw span and re-decking the bridge’s surface. While all agree the project needs to be done sooner rather than later, considering the alternative could be a breakdown of the bridge in the height of the summer tourist season, but concerns have been raised about the impacts on traffic, local businesses in the project area, public safety issues and the inconvenience for local residents.