Bridge Mishap Leads To Predictable Responses

It was understandable to hear all the Route 50 drawbridge concerns after last weekend’s malfunction that resulted in the bridge being closed for about five hours.

It was the worst-case scenario for OceanCity. It happened during the peak summer traffic season and fell on the most inopportune day of the week. Saturday is always the worst travel day in and around OceanCity and along the routes leading to the resort. It’s “check-in” day for most rentals and the roads are horrific as a result heading to and heading away from the beach. It’s critical mass and there’s really nothing that can be done about because of the sheer volume of vehicles. It was also a cloudy day and traffic is always more challenging in Ocean City when it’s not a beach day, but that also meant more travelers left the beach at check-out time rather than enjoy another beach day. That normally spreads out the masses on the roads.

We feel for the motorists. One particular horror story we heard was a 10-hour trip from northern Virginia to Ocean City on Saturday that normally should take three hours. This was a common story. One family we spoke with left their Manassas, Va. home at 10 a.m. and didn’t arrive at their 49th Street rental until after 8 p.m. There was the typical one-hour-plus wait to get on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and another hour-plus delay in Cambridge due to an accident. All the while there was thick traffic at all points in between. The family passed Berlin shortly after 3 p.m. on Route 50 only to find out the drawbridge was up.

What they didn’t realize for some time was that the span had malfunctioned. After about an hour of waiting, they were able to confirm through this paper’s Facebook page that there was a problem. They then turned around, like everyone else, and headed for Route 90 via Route 589. The bad news was an accident had taken place there making that two-lane road a nightmare for hours. Eventually they were able to get out on Route 90 and waited to get into town where the roads were backed up in all directions as well.

The situation was a nightmare scenario for Ocean City. In the days following, kneejerk reactions were expressed on how the state needs to ante up the funds to build a new bridge and replace the archaic drawbridge. That’s much easier opined than done.

The reality here is it’s been several years since the drawbridge has malfunctioned, and it has not within the last 15 years been to this severity. There have been breakdowns, but none that lasted five hours in recent history. The structure of the bridge has been found to be “functionally obsolete” but that doesn’t mean it’s about to fall into the bay. It’s safe but old and in a perfect world replacement would occur sooner than later.

It’s important to note a replacement of the Route 50 Bridge will likely cost more than $100 million. The state has selected its preferred reconstruction option, but it will not be happening within the next 20 years. The stated priorities as far as major infrastructure in Worcester County are Route 113, then Route 589, then the Route 50 Bridge and then Route 90. Ocean City officials have actually maintained that dualizing the entire Route 90 and its two spans needs to surpass the Route 50 Bridge on the priority list.

In addition, before the chosen Route 50 Bridge plan can even occur, the state will have to “take” a decent amount of private property in and around the bridge from families that have owned land in Ocean City for generations.

There will be a tremendous outcry over the new bridge project, which will undoubtedly inconvenience motorists for years during construction. That’s important to remember and helps to balance out the situation here.

Last weekend’s bridge malfunction was a horrible situation and truly terrible luck for OceanCity. It’s one that never should occur, but calling for a new bridge is not the appropriate and mature reaction. That’s not happening anytime soon. The focus needs to be rooted in reality, which lies in more routine maintenance and inspections of the span to prevent this from happening again.