Governor ‘Taking Action’ On Bridge Nightmare, Including Removing All Toll Booths

OCEAN CITY — A frustrated Gov. Larry Hogan this week expressed anger over the growing “unbearable” traffic back-ups related to the multi-year Bay Bridge re-decking project and vowed to take immediate action to alleviate some of the issues.

Earlier this summer, the Maryland Transportation Authority (MDTA) announced a major two-year rehabilitation project on the westbound span of the William Preston Lane, Jr. Memorial Bridge, or simply the Bay Bridge, would begin this fall. Because of the project, the right lane of the westbound span is closed 24 hours per day, seven days of week through April 2020, although the closure will be lifted temporarily during the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. From April 16 through May 20 of next year, the right lane will be closed from 9 a.m. on Monday through 6 a.m. the following Friday.

The entire project will then be suspended and the westbound span will be completely open from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend next year. The major deck rehabilitation project will then resume after Labor Day next year and continue with the same schedule during the fall of 2020 and spring of 2021.

Through the first weekends of the project, motorists have experienced miles-long and hours-long back-ups at the Bay Bridge. From the beginning, MDTA officials acknowledged there would be significant back-ups and urged motorists to be patient during the necessary bridge repair project. However, the back-ups seen through the first few weekends of the project have exceeded even the state’s expectation.

Hogan, speaking candidly at the outset of the state Board of Public Works (BPW) meeting this week, said the deck on the westbound span was in dire need of replacing and the multi-year project could not be put off any longer from a safety perspective.

“Delaying maintenance on the Bay Bridge has caused tremendous safety problems,” he said. “The surface of the right lane of the westbound span is severely deteriorated and has reached the end of its service life.”

Hogan said in one particular section of the right lane on the westbound span, 75% of the area is patched and deteriorating and the condition is worsening every day, which is why the project is so critical at this time.

“If neglected any longer, this crisis could go from terrible and unbearable to catastrophic and life-threatening,” he said. “All of this incredible traffic is being caused by emergency repairs to one lane. Delaying this critical safety work any longer would not only risk safety and potentially risk lives, but would also turn the current project into an even bigger nightmare, which would take five years to complete and would cost the taxpayers more than eight times as much.”

Hogan acknowledged the public’s frustration with the growing back-ups caused by the project and vowed to take steps to at least ease if not alleviate the problems.

“People across the state are frustrated and angry over the sometimes unbearable back-ups at the Bay Bridge,” he said. “I want you to know that I am too. I am taking action to demand that every effort be taken to complete the project as soon as possible, and I am directing all the engineers and experts to look at every possible solution that is feasible.”

To that end, Hogan called for immediate solutions to mitigate, if not alleviate the growing traffic tie-ups in and around the Bay Bridge.

“I have directed the Maryland Department of Transportation to make sure the contractor is working 24 hours a day and that they are expediting it,” he said. “We have asked them to study solutions like faster drying concrete. I am directing that we eliminate all the toll booths altogether and that we move fully to electronic tolling at the Bay Bridge as soon as possible.”

Meanwhile, Ocean City officials continue to monitor the situation. While the resort is cruising into the offseason, there is a vibrant special events season during the fall and winter and some potential visitors might choose to stay home or go elsewhere on their free weekends because of the delays associated with the project.

“We share the frustration and echo the concerns of Governor Hogan, who spoke openly about his own aggravation about the project,” said Ocean City Communications Manager Jessica Waters this week. “We are thankful that the state is aware of the impact this has, not just to Ocean City but to many of us on the Eastern Shore. Of course, public safety is always our top priority and while the bridge repairs must be done, we are thankful there are creative solutions, such as eliminating the toll booths and a 24-hour work schedule, being suggested to mitigate future traffic back-ups.”

Waters suggested weekend visitors make plans to extend their trips to Ocean City and travel at non-peak times.

“In the meantime, we hope visitors will use this as an opportunity to come early and stay late in order to avoid peak travel times,” she said. “With a busy fall and winter schedule, there are plenty of special events for visitors to enjoy during the offseason, so we encourage our visitors to enjoy a few extra days at the beach.”

About The Author: Shawn Soper

Alternative Text

Shawn Soper has been with The Dispatch since 2000. He began as a staff writer covering various local government beats and general stories. His current positions include managing editor and sports editor. Growing up in Baltimore before moving to Ocean City full time three decades ago, Soper graduated from Loch Raven High School in 1981 and from Towson University in 1985 with degrees in mass communications with a journalism concentration and history.