Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan says he is “furious” about severe traffic gridlock caused by a two-year repair project on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, but that delaying the work could lead to “catastrophic” and potentially life-threatening safety risks.
Speaking at a Maryland Board of Public Works meeting Wednesday several weeks after the $27 million project began, Hogan said there is nothing state officials can do to make the sometimes miles-long traffic backups “magically disappear.”
But he promised urgent action to ease some of the problems and to speed up the project, which include:
- Ordering contractors to work on the bridge re-decking project 24 hours a day.
- Eliminating all tolls booths and moving to fully electronic tolling at the bridge “as soon as possible.”
- Considering the use of faster-drying concrete to speed up the project.
- Tasking state troopers to help improve the flow of traffic.
Hogan said delaying the work until spring or summer — as some local officials and Maryland State Comptroller Peter Franchot have proposed — is not feasible.
“Delaying this critical safety work any longer would not only risk safety and potentially risk lives, but it would also turn the current project into an even bigger nightmare, which would take five years to complete and would cost the taxpayers more than eight times as much,” Hogan said. “That would obviously be even more unacceptable than the current situation.”
The Bay Bridge first opened in 1952 and the second span was added in 1973. Hogan said “critical maintenance and necessary repairs” have been put off for at least a decade, leaving the bridge in rough shape and causing “tremendous safety problems.”
The deck surface on the westbound lane of the bridge is deteriorated beyond the end of its service life, Hogan said. In one section of the lane, 75% of the area is deteriorated, he said.
“The condition is worsening every single day,” Hogan said. “If neglected any longer, the crisis could go from terrible and unbearable, to catastrophic and life-threatening.”
Delaying maintenance on the Bay Bridge has caused tremendous safety problems. As you can see, the surface of the right lane of the westbound span is severely deteriorated area has reached the end of its service life. In one section, 75% of the area is patched and deteriorated. pic.twitter.com/zuxnQZ4LEl
— Governor Larry Hogan (@GovLarryHogan) October 16, 2019
Part of the challenge in coming up with solutions to ease the gridlock is that fixes in one area can cause spillover problems in neighboring jurisdictions.
In the first few weeks of the bridge project, massive backups in Anne Arundel County, for example, led the Maryland Transportation Authority to institute what’s known as “contraflow” to reverse lanes on the bridge. While that did relieve traffic in Anne Arundel County, it caused gridlock on shore.
Among the efforts, Hogan said he is tasking traffic engineers to negotiate with local officials to find solutions that “share the pain” and don’t “unfairly target one side or the other.”
Speaking alongside Hogan at Wednesday’s board meeting, Franchot again renewed his call for state officials to temporarily halt the work to give planners more time to come up with traffic-mitigation strategies.
Franchot suggested delaying the work until as late as next fall. “I guess it comes down to whether or not we want to do this project the right way, or just press on with it because it’s already begun,” he said.
Franchot said he is interested in looking at the bridge’s safety inspection reports, adding, “I didn’t realize that the bridge was in danger of failure if we don’t move forward with the repaving project.”
Franchot said his office has heard from thousands of people about the traffic issues they’ve experienced. He said students are arriving late to school because of delayed school buses, and emergency services are being slowed down in responding to calls.
“Simply put, what we have right now is unacceptable,” he said.
At a Board of Public Works meeting earlier this month, Maryland Transportation Secretary Pete Rahn apologized over his department’s handling of the project.
© 2019 WTOP. All Rights Reserved. This website is not intended for users located within the European Economic Area.