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Md. Forecast Sunny For Bridge Traffic

"Since I was elected to represent the Upper Eastern Shore, I have fought to improve bridge conditions," Pipkin wrote. "I have received little or no support from the [Maryland Transportation Authority]. In essence, little has changed regarding bridge traffic during the past three years, except the traffic problems continue to escalate."

Flanagan said that he understands the frustration of Pipkin and the public but stressed that some major efforts have yet to bear fruit.

Officials are working on initiatives aimed at easing miles-long Bay Bridge backups like this one, on a Friday in October. (Lucian Perkins -- The Washington Post)

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"There's real problem-solving that's going on in managing the traffic demand on an aging bridge that is overwhelmed by traffic," he said. "The result of that problem-solving may not yet be apparent . . . but it will pay off. . . . No one can promise an end to congestion on the Bay Bridge at peak times or when there is an accident or a breakdown. What we can do is promise to be the best managers of that bridge as humanly possible."

The Ehrlich administration has formed a task force to study the need for additional bridge capacity. But officials acknowledge that a remedy of that magnitude is years from reality.

Flanagan ticked off a list of more modest steps being implemented, including the hotline with congestion information, an improved Web site about the bridge and "more dynamic" signage directing traffic flow.

In the near term, the largest impact on traffic, he said, will come with reopening of the middle westbound lane.

Repairs on the lane were necessitated by poor concrete work, which led to widespread cracking. It was part of a projected four-year remake of the bridge that began in January 2002 and was expected to cost $60 million.

The fixes delayed the project and added about $5.6 million to the cost, officials estimate.

State officials rushed to redo one of the westbound lanes last fall before cold weather set in and so it would be open in time for the holiday travel season. They completed the job in time, but traffic delays were extreme.

Miles-long delays snared commuters coming from the Eastern Shore to jobs on the mainland as well as weekend travelers as multiple lanes -- and sometimes the entire span -- were closed. The worst of the jams stretched 14 miles on a particularly bad day in September.

Staff writer Matthew Mosk contributed to this report.

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