Route 50 Bridge Changes Eyed For 4th Of July

OCEAN CITY – In an attempt to ease the flow of traffic out of the resort, the Ocean City Police Department and the US Coast Guard are in discussions with the federal government to shift the timeframe the Route 50 drawbridge is closed to vessel traffic on 4th of July.
During a Police Commission meeting this week, Ocean City Police Department (OCPD) Lt. Scott Harner brought to the commission’s attention the town’s ability to make a request in changing or expanding the time frame the drawbridge is closed on the night of the 4th of July to relieve traffic from the downtown area following the fireworks display.
Currently, the Coast Guard allows the bridge to remain in the closed position from 9:30 p.m. until 10:30 p.m. on July 4.
The vertical clearance of the bascule bridge is 13 feet above mean high tide in the closed position and unlimited in the open position. The current operating schedule for the bridge is set for the draw to open at 25 and 55 minutes after the hour for a maximum of five minutes, except that on Saturday from 1-5 p.m. the draw shall open on the hour for all waiting vessels and remain in the open position until all waiting vessels pass.
The majority of the vessels that transit under this bridge this time of the year are recreational boats. Vessels that are able to transit under the bridge without an opening may do so at any time.
Since the drawbridge is currently allowed to be closed from 9:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m., the 9:55 p.m. and 10:25 p.m. opening is eliminated from the schedule.
“That may have used to work well, and helped us out but it seems to be less helpful now because when the fireworks go off around 9:40 and end around 9:50 by the time everyone gets back to their cars and head down the road, yes we are around that 10:25 opening but the 10:55 and even the 11:25 openings is what hurts us when it goes up and traffic just stops,” Harner said. “What I have learned is the folks on the federal level are willing to work with us and adjust those times.”
Harner suggested changing the time the drawbridge is closed from 10-11 p.m., so that the 10:25 p.m. and 10:55 p.m. openings would be eliminated.
“There is a fair amount of marine traffic there that is why I am working with Master Chief Fowle to find out the least obtrusive for the marine traffic but the most beneficial for vehicular traffic,” Harner said. “If we just adjust the hour, we wouldn’t be inconveniencing anyone any longer.”
Police Commission Chair/Councilman Doug Cymek voiced his concern over the push back the town may receive from vessels if the time the drawbridge is closed on 4th of July is changed as boats and charters watch the fireworks from the ocean.
OCPD Captain Greg Guiton recalled communications receiving an abundance of calls a couple years back from vessels waiting for the drawbridge to lift following the 4th of July fireworks as people were becoming ill due to the rough waters in the Inlet.
“We do the best we can but it is no different from going to a Ravens game in Baltimore and being in a parking garage or being at a concert. Whenever you have an event that ends at a specific time, and everyone wants to leave at the same time, you are going to have those types of backups,” Mayor Rick Meehan said.
Meehan also had concerns over changing the hour and eliminating two opening cycles for the drawbridge. He suggested eliminating only the 10:25 p.m. opening.
Councilman Dennis Dare suggested Harner speak with charter boat captains on the matter and report back to the commission with their feedback at a later date. At that time, an in-depth report will be presented to the council before action moving forward takes place.