OCEAN CITY — An extreme differential in the air and water temperatures caused the Route 50 Bridge into Ocean City to malfunction early Tuesday morning, but adjustments have been made to prevent a similar occurrence heading into the height of the summer season.
Around 6 a.m. on Tuesday, the Route 50 Bridge was raised and lowered as planned, but the gates that prevent traffic from moving across the draw span were stuck in the down position. The malfunction caused a brief traffic backup, such as it is at 6 a.m. on a Tuesday morning, and many motorists opted to turn around and backtrack to Route 90 to get into the resort.
“The bridge tender raised the bridge, closed it and seated it as usual, but the gates didn’t open,” said State Highway Administration Media Relations Manager David Buck on Wednesday. “It was the first time it ever happened on the Route 50 Bridge. It has happened on other bridges around the state, but never at the Ocean City bridge. It was rectified in about 15 minutes.”
Buck said the problem was caused by extreme differences in temperature in the air and the water below the span. A sensor allows the gates to reopen after the bridge is closed and seated, but that sensor malfunctioned on Tuesday morning because of the vast differences in the air and water temperatures, according to Buck.
“With several days in the 90s, all of that steel and concrete was so hot and the water temperature in the bay is still pretty cold. The water is warming up quickly, but with those extreme temperature differences, the sensor didn’t engage. Basically, even though the bridge was closed and seated, the sensor didn’t recognize that everything was okay and wouldn’t let the gates reopen.”
Buck said once the problem was recognized, it was quickly rectified and the gates reopened, allowing traffic to flow across the bridge.
“The sensor was adjusted so it is less sensitive to the temperature differences,” he said. “It was a pretty easy fix. The sensor was adjusted to be less sensitive and the bridge tender now knows to hold the close button down just a little bit longer. It is a pretty narrow window of when the air temperature is so hot and the water hasn’t warmed up yet, but we’re sure the adjustments won’t let it happen again.”
Motorists stuck in traffic on Tuesday morning because of the bridge issue were likely reminded of a major malfunction of the span nearly one year ago. Around 3 p.m. last June 26, the drawbridge got stuck in the open position, causing traffic gridlock across much of northern Worcester County and lower Sussex County.
The bridge remained stuck in the open position for about five hours until the decision was made to hand-crank the draw span into the closed position. SHA engineers determined the problem was caused by a cracked mount on the drawbridge’s drive shaft.
The bridge was fixed temporarily and worked throughout the rest of last summer without any more issues. A long-term fix was completed in April.
Buck said the problem with the sensor on Tuesday was an entirely different issue and it has been rectified. He said the completion of the major repair this spring should prevent a repeat of last summer’s debacle.
“Tuesday’s issue had nothing to do with what happened last summer,” he said. “While we can never say never, the bridge literally has thousands of moving parts and we would be remiss if we said there will never be another problem, but we are completely confident that it will function properly as we head into the busy part of the season.”