Tolls suspended as drivers face heavy traffic on eastbound Route 50 before Bay Bridge

Drivers on eastbound U.S. Route 50 on Friday encountered extreme traffic delays caused by a new traffic pattern at the Bay Bridge, in Anne Arundel County, Maryland, compelling transportation officials to take the unusual step of waiving tolls to alleviate the miles-long backup.

For a time Friday afternoon, the eastbound traffic jam exceeded 12 miles in length, beginning near the South River. Traffic was further slowed east of Route 424 by drivers teeming the ramp onto northbound Interstate 97. Bailout traffic surged onto streets in downtown Annapolis and numerous routes across Broad Neck.

From late morning until shortly after 11 p.m., traffic slowed to a crawl from Cape St. Claire Road into the Bay Bridge toll plaza, where 11 toll lanes funneled down to just two lanes. The magnitude of the delay was similar to that experienced on a rainy summer afternoon, when bridge operators can’t safely open the reversible lane to eastbound drivers.

More than two years of major construction delays kicked off Tuesday with the suspension of two-way traffic operations at the Bay Bridge for long-term maintenance.

In a rare move, with long delays plaguing eastbound drivers well past sunset on Friday, Maryland Department of Transportation Secretary Pete K. Rahn directed State Highway Administrator Greg Slater and Maryland Transportation Authority Executive Director Jim Ports to address the heavy traffic resulting from the bridge deckwork by waiving tolls on the western shore.

MDOT tweeted that moving forward, when traffic backs up to I-97, the MDTA will hold traffic westbound for short periods to allow three lanes of eastbound traffic, unless prevented by severe weather conditions.

From Sept. 24 through as late as May 2020, and then again during a similar period from fall 2020 to spring 2021, work to fix the right lane on the westbound span will prevent contraflow reversals that allow for an extra lane to serve traffic in the eastbound direction.

The MDTA narrowed lanes on the westbound span of the bridge in preparation for a 24/7 westbound right lane closure, scheduled to begin next Monday. The MDTA said that the narrowed lane configuration prevented contraflow traffic on Friday, notwithstanding the absence of active bridge work.

The $27 million deck rehabilitation project will replace the road surface of the westbound span, make other repairs and replace the current lane-use signals.

Although traffic volumes decline throughout autumn, recurring daytime traffic congestion near the toll plaza is possible for the next several weeks.

WTOP’s Abigail Constantino and Max Smith contributed to this report. 

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