OCEAN CITY—For about twenty minutes on Wednesday, hundreds of onlookers stood awestruck by the sheer size of a 200-foot long barge that was inching it’s way through the drawbridge of the Harry Kelley Memorial Bridge on it’s way to help fix the damaged and closed Route 90 bridge.
Yet, there were some in attendance who weren’t sure if it was going to make it.
“I wasn’t sure if it was going to fit for a few minutes there, but the important thing is that it did”, said one onlooker on the fishing pier on 2nd street neighboring Cropper’s Landing. “I had heard that the thing was two inches bigger than what could fit through there, so I wanted to see it with my own eyes.”
The draw-span of the Harry E. Kelley bridge is 78-feet wide when it is open, and for the record, the “Cape Fear” barge that successfully squeaked through on Wednesday is 77.5-feet wide. The close call had even those at the State Highway Administration (SHA) holding their breath and crossing their fingers.
“It’s going to be a tight fit, I can tell you that”, said SHA District Engineer Donnie Drewer. “It’s going to at least take them 15 to 25 minutes just to get that thing through to the other side, but they’ll get it through.”
Although the barge arrived near the drawbridge at about 1 p.m. on Wednesday, it sat idle for almost an hour, reportedly waiting for the tide to pick up speed and help guide it through the boat channel. At about 2:32 p.m., traffic was stopped on the Route 50 bridge, and for approximately the next twenty minutes, a tug boat helped push the barge, which towered at least 50 feet over the highest point of the opened draw span, through to the other side.
Drewer said that the barge called the “Cape Fear,” which carried a gigantic crane, was supplied by McLean Shipping and will carry the 85-foot-span of the Route 90 bridge that will be removed away from the site in five massive pieces.
“It’s the biggest one that they make,” said Drewer. “That thing could lift Ocean City.”
Drewer also noted that although last week’s weather may have stalled a bit of progress on the project, he feels that things are still moving to plan.
“We think things are moving right along, and we are still shooting for mid-December to be finished with the entire project,” he said.
The spectacle of the barge moving through the drawbridge created a lengthy traffic backup on Route 50 and attracted almost 20 boats that were floating near the base of the bridge watching the behemoth barge seemingly squeeze through what became a very small drawbridge to the other side.
One of the biggest boats that watched the barge pass through was the 38-foot boat built, owned and operated by Seacrets owner Leighton Moore.
“They knew that they could make it through, and what appeared to be them stopping and starting, was essentially them just jockeying for position with the tide and kind of hovering to be sure that if they did tap the bridge, they did it very gingerly”, said Moore. “They had to wait for the tide to start coming toward them and they had the McLean tug boat pushing them while Denny Sharp’s boat was pulling them. My boat was the biggest one out there that was watching, so it looked like I was leading the parade, but in reality, I was just watching too.”