Bridge Closure Start Date Finalized

OCEAN CITY – The start date for the major Route 50 bridge repair and rehabilitation project, which will close the span to all traffic for an estimated 35 days, was revealed this week, and while the project has not been moved up as hoped, state officials are confident it will be completed before one of the biggest weekends of the winter season.

State Highway Administration (SHA) District Engineer Donnie Drewer said yesterday the Route 50 bridge closure will begin on or around Jan. 17 as originally planned. From the beginning, resort business leaders urged SHA to move up the start date to earlier in January to help ensure the project would be completed before one of the busiest weekends of the winter in mid-February, which includes Valentine’s Day, the President’s Day weekend and the annual Seaside Boat Show.

The big three all fall around the same four-day span 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 President’s 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 and the local business community, particularly those businesses in close proximity to either side of the span, has raised grave concerns about the potential impact of the bridge being closed during that stretch on the calendar.

However, the start date hinges on the delivery of materials for the project, which includes completely replacing the large, metal grids on the draw span. The grids are being constructed in Ohio and have to be galvanized when they are completed, placing their delivery to the site around Jan. 24. SHA crews will begin removing the existing grids on Jan. 17 in preparation for the arrival of the new grids a week later, making that date the official start of the complete closure.

While the start date could not be moved up to earlier in January, Drewer said yesterday the project should be completed in advance of the expected 35-day window and held out hope the bridge would be reopened to traffic in advance of the big holiday weekend in February.

“I’ve had conversations with our bridge people and the contractor and they have every reason to believe this project will be completed before the maximum – and I stress maximum – 35 days,” he said. “If everything goes as planned and we don’t have any catastrophes, we’ll have it opened back up to traffic around Feb. 15. I’m not guaranteeing anything, but we think we’ll be able to meet that target date.”

Drewer said the uncertainties surrounding the weather in January and February could derail the construction schedule.

“If something happens where they can’t work for an extended period of time, then the schedule will obviously be moved back,” he said. “We just have to keep our fingers crossed.”

The contract includes both incentives and disincentives to keep the project on schedule. For example, there are fines that begin after 35 days, just as there are lucrative financial incentives for the contractor to finish the job ahead of schedule.

Replacing the grids on the draw span is just part of the overall project. Also included in the plan is replacing the latex overlay on the entire bridge, which will be done in phases throughout the spring, resulting in sporadic lane closures on the span. Drewer said that work could be spread over this spring and next to minimize the impact.