Bay Bridge Forecast: No Holiday For Drivers

Repairs, Closures Portend Backups

Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 29, 2008; Page B03

Lane closures and continuing work on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge could wreak havoc with end-of-summer travel plans this holiday weekend.

The bridge has long been a bottleneck for vacationers heading to the Eastern Shore, especially on holidays and long weekends. But a fatal truck accident earlier this month has closed the right lane of the eastbound span. And speed and truck restrictions are in force.

More than 680,000 Washington-area residents will travel 50 miles or more during Labor Day weekend, according to AAA-Mid Atlantic.

"This is the first time that the number of people traveling for Labor Day is greater than July 4th," said John Townsend, spokesman for the motor club. He attributed the increase to gas prices, which have dropped 50 cents since the Fourth of July.

"People may also be traveling because it's the last chance of the summer," he said.

Maryland transportation officials yesterday warned vacationers heading to the Eastern Shore to avoid the Bay Bridge crossing and use alternate routes. From the Washington area, one alternative is to take Interstate 95 north to southbound Route 1 in Delaware. From there, continue to Route 528 to the Coastal Highway or take DE 1 to Route 113 to either MD Route 90 or Route 50 into Ocean City.

To help vacationers and other travelers, the westbound span will provide two lanes eastbound Monday through Wednesday from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Thursday and Friday from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m.; and Saturday from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., according to the Maryland Transportation Authority, which runs the bridge.

MTA officials said commuters will still have three westbound lanes available during Labor Day and during weekday morning rush hours, but urged travelers to cross before 11 a.m. or after 10 p.m. Call 1-877-BAYSPAN for updates and travel time estimates.

The speed limit on the one open lane on the eastbound span has been reduced to 40 mph, and trucks wider than 12 feet are prohibited from traveling eastbound on the bridge.

Bridge officials are closing the lane to repair and strengthen the reinforced concrete parapet that a tractor-trailer smashed through Aug. 10 before plunging into the Chesapeake Bay, killing the driver, John R. Short, 57, of Willards, Md.

The truck scraped along the parapet on one side of the bridge before swerving across traffic and smashing into the parapet on the other side. The impact took out 10 feet of wall and displaced an additional eight to 10 feet. The truck rode along the top of the parapet before tipping over into the bay.

An initial investigation showed that some of the bolts attaching the concrete barrier to the bridge were corroded.

The interim repairs include adding L-shaped brackets and steel guardrails. A more permanent solution could mean driving anchoring dowels through the concrete walls and placing a strengthening device on the back of the parapets.

Yesterday, state Sen. E.J. Pipkin (R-Queen Anne's) called for an independent inspection of the bridge, saying MTA and state transportation leaders have overplayed the bridge's safety.

"This corrosion didn't happen overnight," he said. "What else don't they know about?

"To have to do repairs on the worst traffic weekend of the year goes to what I'm saying: The system didn't work," Pipkin added.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company