Since the start of a two-year, $27 million project on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, motorists have endured long delays at the crossing, including a 14-mile back up which lasted for hours. State Comptroller Peter Franchot is calling on Maryland’s Department of Transportation to press the pause button on the work in response to the gridlock.
“The damage that’s being done right now, just, is unbelievable, and the public is not going to stand for it much more,” Franchot said.
Franchot urged halting the project in a letter to MDOT. Planners failed to work with stakeholders, according to Franchot, and he said he believes the work situation is taking a toll on both the economy and the environment with the increase of bumper-to-bumper traffic.
Franchot said he believes since the fall and winter months will likely present more weather delays for projects, these months present an opportunity to stop the work and rethink how the project is being executed.
“Let’s reboot it or regroup during that time and do the kind of planning and consolation that should have happened, then I think, then you can restart the project in the spring,” Franchot said.
One of the options Franchot said planners could consider is removing toll booths and electronic tolling on the bridge. He believes adding more commuter buses could also help in reducing the number of cars crossing the bridge.
“The key is you have a plan, and right now there is no plan,” he said.
Currently, the delays are being caused by the closure of the westbound span, so its deck can be rehabilitated.
Franchot said while he knows backups and delays could come with any big project, he feels a new plan of action for the project could make traffic run a bit smoother as repairs are made to the bridge.
“What will happen after a proper plan and strategy is implemented … it would only be a scintilla of what is going on now,” Franchot said.
Maryland Transportation Authority Executive Director Jim Ports called the project an urgent safety project and said stopping work right now would only make matters worse.
“To delay this work from fall and winter, as the Comptroller suggests, would shift it into spring and summer when traffic is at its peak, only magnifying the disruption that residents are experiencing now,” Ports said in a statement to WTOP.
Ports said there are no other easy options or detours around the bridge, which has lost 20% of its capacity. When the reversible lane is closed, that knocks eastbound capacity down by 33%, according to Ports. He said state has been and continues to work with area communities, including public safety officials from Anne Arundel and Queen Anne’s counties.
Franchot also believes the situation is making things harder for first responders who need access to the bridge. The MDTA said it has been doing tabletop exercises with emergency responders from both counties.
Franchot, a Democrat, who recently announced he is considering a run for governor in the state in 2022, said that decision did not play a part in his penning of a letter to MDOT.
“This is as a member of the board of the public works. I’m reflecting what I’m getting in lots of communications from Maryland citizens,” Franchot said.