Route 50 Bridge Project Nears Completion

OCEAN CITY – Springfest has arrived and the re-decking of the westbound lanes of the Harry Kelley Memorial Bridge continues, but State Highway Administration (SHA) officials said this week the project is on target for completion sometime next week.

From the outset, SHA officials held out a modicum of hope the vast re-decking project would be completed in time for the annual kick-off event for the season. Although finishing the $2.4 million re-decking job by the opening of Springfest was never a stated deadline, SHA officials said as recently as a couple of weeks ago it was a possibility.

However, Springfest officially opened yesterday and the work continues. SHA District Engineer Donnie Drewer said this week the project was obviously not going to be completed in time for Springfest, but did say with some degree of certainty it would be wrapped up next week.

“We didn’t make Springfest, but that was a long-shot from the get-go,” he said. “It’s moving along pretty well now and we will wrap it up next week barring unforeseen circumstances. I can’t say an exact date with any certainty, but we talked about May 11 awhile back and that looks doable.”

The project began in early March, resulting in the closure of two lanes of the bridge, leaving one narrow lane open in each direction with a concrete barrier in between for nearly two months. The project began shortly after a complete closure of the span was completed, making the bridge a nightmare for much of 2008.

The reconfigured traffic patterns have caused heartburn for many motorists who utilize the span, more than a few fender benders and side mirror losses and at least one report of road rage, but it now appears the work is nearing its completion. Drewer said the re-decking project would have been finished sooner if not for the suddenly wet weather of late.

“We had an outside shot of getting it done sooner than we planned, but the weather worked against us here lately,” he said. “We missed a couple of days and it set us back.”

For weeks, it appeared not much was happening on the closed westbound lanes of the bridge, but the preparation work for the deck overlay is time consuming and cumbersome. The entire existing surface of the westbound lanes was milled down to its base level, much like the similar repaving projects completed on Coastal Highway, for example. Unlike other highway repaving projects, however, no vehicles were allowed to drive over the milled roadway on the bridge because of the nature of the structure.

If all goes according to plan, the westbound lanes will be resurfaced next week and all lanes of the bridge will re-open with traditional traffic patterns. However, resurfacing the westbound lanes is only half the battle.

SHA plans to repeat the process next winter and early spring on the eastbound lanes of the span. SHA split the resurfacing project over two years to minimize the impact on the summer season.

“We’ll start the whole process again next year, probably within the same time frame,” said Drewer. “At least we’ll get this part done and be out of everybody’s hair for awhile.”

Meanwhile, the long-term plan to completely replace or rehabilitate the entire span continues to move forward, albeit slowly. The project is in the Stage II phase, during which state officials are carefully weighing the six remaining alternatives still on the drawing board including a no-build option, a rehabilitation option, a new connection with 1st Street, or an entirely new parallel bridge either just to the north or just to the south of the existing span.

The current options were winnowed from a larger list of alternatives presented at the outset of the planning process almost two years ago, one of which would have created a new bridge without a draw span that would have started as far back as Route 611. SHA has planned more public input sessions for later this month.