Locked Brakes Caused Brief Route 50 Bridge Malfunction

Locked Brakes Caused Brief Route 50 Bridge Malfunction
File Photo by Chris Parypa

OCEAN CITY — The Route 50 bridge draw span was briefly stuck in the open position on Tuesday, but state officials quickly resolved the issue, confirming staff remains on hand in case any more problems with the bridge arise.

Around 11 a.m. on Tuesday, Maryland Department of Transportation’s State Highway Administration (SHA) officials reported the draw span of the Harry Kelley Memorial Bridge, or the Route 50 Bridge, in and out of the south end of Ocean City was stuck in the open position. Traffic briefly backed up on Route 50 entering Ocean City on a busy August morning in the middle of the White Marlin Open, but -SHA officials addressed the situation and order was restored in less than an hour.

It certainly isn’t the first time the draw span on the Route 50 Bridge was stuck in the open position and likely not the last for the decades-old bridge. SHA spokesperson Shantee Felix this week explained what happened with the bridge being stuck in the up position on Tuesday. Felix said crews are almost always readily available, but particularly during White Marlin Open week.

“The brakes on the U.S. Route 50 Bridge temporarily locked this morning and the issue has since been resolved,” she said. “As with every White Marlin Open event, MDOT-SHA has drawbridge mechanics, electricians and inspectors on site daily to quickly resolve any issues that may arise during this busy time of the year.”

Complicating resort traffic further, although not at the same time, SHA officials announced on Tuesday the Route 90 Bridge over St. Martins River would be closed overnight Tuesday and into Wednesday morning for emergency guardrail repairs.

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The Route 50 Bridge is scheduled for replacement by the state at some point, but the replacement is still likely decades away. It remains serviceable for the most part, although there have been closures in the past for a variety of reasons including drawbridge failures. In late July 2014, the Route 50 drawbridge was stuck in the open position of over five hours on a busy Saturday afternoon, snarling traffic with backups on all major thoroughfares in the north end of Worcester County and on Route 54 in nearby Delaware as beach-bound motorists attempted alternative routes. In that instance, SHA engineers determined the failure was due to a cracked mount on the draw span’s drive shaft. The cracked mount was temporarily repaired that day and a major overhaul of the draw span was completed during the following offseason.

There is a plan for ultimately replacing the Route 50 Bridge although it has fallen behind other major planned projects in the state’s highway project pecking order in Worcester. Nearly a decade ago, SHA and the Federal Highway Administration backed Alternative 5A for the bridge replacement and it was put in the planning pipeline.

Alternative 5A calls for a new bridge just north of and parallel to the existing span that would tie into the existing eastern terminus at North Division Street. According to the tentative plans for Alternative 5A, the new span would still include a drawbridge, but it would be 30 feet high, which would reduce the number of openings and closings. At the time state and federal officials approved Alternative 5A, the timetable for final design and right-of-way acquisition was set for between 2022 and 2027, with construction anticipated during the 2027-2032 timeframe.

However, there has been little movement since and replacing the Route 50 bridge is no longer the state’s top highway project priority in Worcester County. The dualization of Route 90 is now the county’s top priority. Last year, Gov. Larry Hogan announced funding would be included in the state’s Consolidated Transportation Plan (CIP) for the planning phase of dualizing Route 90 into Ocean City.

About The Author: Shawn Soper

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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.