OCEAN CITY — What seemed eminent last week is destined to become a reality next week: the Route 90 Bridge will be closed for repairs for at least two months.
The Maryland State Highway Administration (SHA) announced this week that due to the substantial structural damage found last week underneath an 85-foot section of the bridge that sits over the boat channel in the Assawoman Bay during an annual inspection, the bridge will be closed until mid-December (weather permitting) while repairs are done.
City Manager Dennis Dare hinted last week that the damage to the bridge might be substantial enough for the entire 85-foot section to be removed from the bridge, and replaced with a new section that would be built off-site, transported into the area on a barge and lifted into place.
On Tuesday, Dare’s guess, albeit an educated one, became a fact, as the SHA outlined its plans to fix the problem that forced them to restrict vehicles of more than 6,000 pounds from using the bridge last week.
“Over the next two months, crews will remove the 85-foot span over the navigational channel, fabricate and set new steel replacement beams, pour a new concrete bridge deck on the newly placed beams, restripe the new pavement, and install new raised pavement markers,” according to the SHA’s release.
The 6,000-pound emergency weight restriction, which is essentially a passenger vehicle or an unloaded pickup truck, will continue until the bridge closes at some point either next week or at the latest, early the following week.
Dare said that the exact date of closure is contingent on the contractor who wins the bid process and when they can get underway with the project.
“From what I understand is that they are going to award the bid by Monday evening, so they should have an idea of exactly when they’ll close the bridge for good then,” said Dare, “but to be honest they’ve got a lot of things that they have to organize but they will be on top of it and let us know as soon as they know.”
During the closure, eastbound traffic will detour to the Route 50 Bridge into Ocean City and traffic in Ocean City will be directed across the Route 50 Bridge. SHA will allow local traffic to use Route 90 to access Route 113, Route 589 to Ocean Pines or Saint Martins Neck Road toward Bishopville, but no vehicle will be allowed past the intersection of St. Martin’s Neck Road.
Last week, there was a mad scramble after the flaw was found underneath the bridge to not only pass an emergency weight restriction of 6,000 pounds, but also find some way to enforce it.
According to Dare, the SHA had to ask the town of Ocean City for use of its digital message boards until the SHA could get theirs in place, and the messages on those signs were changed from “6,000 pound weight limit” to “Passenger Vehicles Only” in order to make the restrictions clear to motorists unsure of the gross weight of their own vehicles.
Donnie Drewer, District Engineer for the SHA, said that if repairs to the bridge had to happen, this is probably the ideal time of year to do it without major weather delays.
“I think that two months is sufficient time to get the job done based on history,” said Drewer. “The weather will probably play a little bit of a part and push us back a little, but that all depends on how bad the weather gets in the near future. At least, it’s not February.”
Most are downplaying the bridge’s closure as more of an inconvenience than a major concern, including this weekend’s Endless Summer Cruisin’ event coordinator Bob Rothermel.
“I worry less about the people coming for the Cruisin’ event than I do about the general public concerning the 6,000-pound weight limit on the bridge,” said Rothermel. “These folks know exactly how much their cars and their trailers weigh whereas the general public probably doesn’t. They will find their way into town, and we are sold out, so we are expecting over 1,500 cars and probably another 1,000 people.”
Rothermel’s Cruisin’ events have seemingly coincided with planned or, in this case, unplanned road construction, in the past several years, but he says the mere coincidence has not dispelled people from coming to town to participate in the Cruisin’ festivities.
“People love coming to Ocean City for this event, even though there has been lot of roadwork or construction during our event the last few years,” said Rothermel. “Basically, it is what it is, and we are going to deal with it. It’s just a minor bump in the road.”
As for town operations, Dare told The Dispatch that Emergency Services Director Joe Theobald is in the process of putting together a “incident action plan” for the resort to ensure that the closure of the bridge will not effect the day to day operations.
“Basically, we’ve asked all the departments to submit their alternative procedures for their operations to us as soon as possible, and then we will centralize that information and manage it while the bridge is closed,” said Theobald. “We are obviously waiting on the exact date of closure, but pretty soon, this is all going to be a memory and everything will be back to normal.”
Drewer said that the construction bid for the bridge project will be awarded on Monday and that this will more than likely be the final weekend the bridge is open to motorists.
“I would guess that once the bid gets awarded, the company will get started almost immediately,” said Drewer.