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Members of the Queen Anne’s County Commission, fed up with massive traffic backups caused by re-decking work on the Bay Bridge, are demanding that the Maryland Transportation Authority provide relief to county residents and bridge-bound motorists who’ve seen travel times swell in the project’s first weeks.
The all-Republican panel is also expressing its frustration with Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R). Commissioners accuse him of being missing in action on a crisis that has had significant impact on commuters, students, first-responders, business owners and others.
Hogan administration officials insist they have had several meetings over the past several weeks with Queen Anne’s elected officials, business leaders and school administrators.
Nevertheless, commissioners on Thursday were preparing to send a letter to state officials, urging them to limit the use of two-way traffic on the westbound span.
“Contraflow is the most dangerous highway traffic control that you can do, and they’ll be the first to tell you that,” said James Moran, the president of the Queen Anne’s County Commission, in an interview.
“We have the longest contraflow in the nation, I believe, on the bridge. And it’s a disaster waiting to happen.”
Having two-way high-speed traffic on non-median-separated lanes has long been controversial, but it’s a tool that officials have utilized to get commuter and Eastern Shore-bound traffic from the Annapolis area across the bay more quickly, particularly during beach season.
With work on the right lane of the westbound span now in its third week, the contraflow pattern means there are times when there is only one lane leaving Queen Anne’s, resulting in massive backups.
In addition to the safety concerns, local officials complain about a sharp reduction in capacity.
Large trucks have been banned during recent two-way use of the westbound span, as are vehicles pulling trailers, boats and campers. They are relegated to the shoulders of county roads, making it difficult for public safety vehicles to respond to emergencies, Moran said.
The head of the five-person commission expressed frustration that Hogan has not been more involved.
“We’ve heard nothing from the governor,” he said. “Queen Anne’s County is an all-Republican county. It’s all Republican elected officials. And we love our governor. And we commend him for taking the effort to say, ‘look, we’re going to fix this problem.’ But there’s been no communication about what’s going on with the bridge [and] where we stand.”
Moran said the MDTA “told us vehemently that there would be no contraflow because it’s just too dangerous, the lanes are too narrow.” But after long backups started forming in Annapolis the weekend the bridge work started, and the head of the Maryland Department of Transportation caught an earful from Comptroller Peter V.R. Franchot (D), that commitment evaporated.
“Secretary [Pete K.] Rahn goes before the Board of Public Works, and three days later, with a five-minute notice to the county, they open up contraflow,” Moran said.
The commissioners’ concerns and frustrations are shared by Sen. Stephen S. Hershey Jr. (R), who represents several Eastern Shore counties.
“The lack of communication and somewhat misleading statements from the MdTA in advance of this project was unacceptable and frankly disingenuous,” he said in an email.
“I understand the frustrations of our commissioners, this is affecting the vast majority of our citizens and businesses. We’ve contacted Governor Hogan and asked him to make addressing the current commuting and traffic conditions one of his top priorities.”
Added Moran: “I have the highest respect for State Highway, MDTA and everybody else, but I think things could go a lot smoother with inclusion, instead of exclusion. If we’re sitting at the table with them and we’re discussing this, and we come out as a unified voice, things work so much better.”
Erin Henson, a spokeswoman for the Maryland Department of Transportation, said Maryland Transportation Authority Executive Director James F. Ports Jr. has had “dozens” of meetings, phone calls, emails and texts with Queen Anne’s County officials, including the commissioners, county administrator, school administrators and the school bus contractor.
Other state transportation officials also met with Queen Anne’s leaders, Henson said.
Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman (D) said the state made a critical mistake by not removing toll plazas at the Bay Bridge — as they’re doing at the Key and Hatem Bridges — before the project began.
“I think they need to move up the all-electronic tolling and they need to make that happen now,” Pittman said in an interview.
“They just created a huge traffic issue and they need to resolve the movement of the cars going eastbound now.”
Pittman said “there’s been a communication problem and a transparency problem” surrounding the entire Bay Bridge resurfacing project.
“They have not told us anything in advance,” he said. “They have not consulted. We have not had a conversation. So that’s been frustrating.”
Moran said the state is not making maximum use of the closed lane by having multiple crews working different portions of the road, but he expressed optimism that may be changing.
“They could start at three separate locations if they’re serious about this and get it done. And I would applaud them,” he said. “But again, we don’t know because we don’t have a seat at the table. There’s no communication with Queen Anne’s County about how this is all going to transpire.”
Moran said he’s aware that he may not the most popular person at MDOT headquarters.
“I know there’s a lot of people at MDTA right now that would like to throw me off that bridge. I’m sorry about that. It’s not personal. We have to do what we feel is right for the citizens of Queen Anne’s County.”
Transportation Authority spokespeople did not respond to a request for comment on Thursday.