ANNAPOLIS, MAY 29 -- As if the soggy Memorial Day weekend weather wasn't bad enough, thousands of beach travelers crawled back home Monday night through a 14-mile traffic jam waiting to cross the Chesapeake Bay Bridge.
This is what the highly touted Reach the Beach program was supposed to eliminate, wasn't it?
Maryland Gov. William Donald Schaefer plans to call in top transportation officials later this week for an explanation.
"I will say I am going to get everybody in to find out what in the world causes these backups," Schaefer said today.
There are already some explanations. Russ Ulrich, a spokesman for the State Highway Administration, said today that record Memorial Day weekend crowds were in Ocean City, a prime destination for many travelers. A year ago, 131,000 vehicles crossed eastbound on the Bay Bridge. This past weekend, that number jumped to 153,000.
Then there were some accidents and other hindrances. And while no construction workers were on the job, road projects along Route 50 at Annapolis and at Kent Narrows contributed to the problem, Ulrich said.
"Even though there was no construction going on . . . we had narrowed the lanes in those areas, which creates slowdowns," Ulrich added.
On Monday, when homebound vacationers were crowding onto the westbound lanes of Route 50, the drawbridge at Kent Narrows was opened about 3:30 p.m. The result of all the problems: a 14.5-mile backup along Route 50 on the Eastern Shore and a six-mile jam near Annapolis.
Schaefer, who has promised to make the annual trek to the beach easier, said he didn't like what he saw on Friday. "I think our state roads people didn't take out some barrels and barriers. They backed up traffic and people started to call down here," the governor said. There's only so much, he cautioned, that can be done. "Maybe we can put some signs down further that there's a backup," he added.
Yet, the real answer to the bogged-down driving on Kent Island, just across the Bay Bridge, won't come for a year, until the opening of the Kent Narrows Bridge. That event, scheduled for next Memorial Day, will widen the roadway from two lanes in each direction to three. More important, Route 50 traffic then will bypass the drawbridge.
Schaefer, who often spends weekends at Ocean City, was luckier than some. He wasn't on the Eastern Shore, said press secretary Paul E. Schurick.
"But he got plenty and plenty of firsthand accounts," Schurick said.