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Summer traffic backups toward Bay Bridge could worsen

Traffic backs up at the Bay Bridge toll plaza in this May 2015 file photo. (WTOP/Dave Dildine)

WASHINGTON — Drivers headed to the Eastern Shore on U.S. Route 50 were caught in long backups last Friday, and many were further aggravated when they discovered only two lanes were open to eastbound traffic at the Bay Bridge. It turns out the traffic pattern was no mistake, and it could become the new norm.

The northern span of the Bay Bridge is equipped to handle two-way traffic, and bridge administrators are well rehearsed when it comes to aiming the reversible lane in the direction of travel that needs it the most.

Last Friday, beach-bound families, commercial drivers and residents alike were blindsided by a backup that extended from near Interstate 97 to the Bay Bridge, a distance of greater than 10 miles. Unlike most partly sunny, summer Friday afternoons, the reversible lane remained devoted to westbound traffic, limiting eastbound drivers to two lanes across the Chesapeake Bay.

The traffic pattern remained unchanged until about 5:30 p.m., when two-way operations were put back into effect. The backup didn’t clear until late in the evening.

Although westbound traffic was at a free flow for hours before two-way traffic was put into effect, a spokesperson for the Maryland Transportation Authority said the agency will be prioritizing westbound traffic, keeping the reversible lane open to westbound drivers longer, even on summer Fridays.

The MDTA said police and fire departments and other rescue personnel east of the Bay Bridge in Queen Anne’s County have said that when westbound traffic on Route 50 backs up, bailout traffic floods the limited routes across Kent Island, thus hampering rescue operations.

The limited number of routes between Queenstown and Stevensville, mainly Route 8 and Route 18, quickly become overwhelmed as westbound traffic on Route 50 begins to slow, increasing rescue response times.

“Today we now have electronic devices onboard to try to vector us around where the delays are determined to be, and perhaps by recommending rather roundabout routes to try to save a couple of minutes, they wind up sending us in somebody else’s path,” said WTOP traffic guru Bob Marbourg.

The MDTA says there is no rigid schedule for two-way operations at the Bay Bridge, despite greater demand on summer Fridays. Reversals are implemented by bridge administrators on a case-by-case basis based on current traffic conditions and other considerations such as weather.

During rainy, windy or foggy weather, bridge administrators refrain from two-way traffic because of safety concerns. Rainy or windy conditions on summer Fridays can lead to sizable delays.

“There are many considerations to balance here — not just the travelers and vacationers passing through, but the people who live, who work, who shop on both sides of the Bay Bridge,” Marbourg said. “And there’s also concern for the ability for the emergency services to response on a very limited network of roads, especially on the Eastern Shore side.”


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