Hogan cited huge backups on both sides of the bridge, in the Annapolis area of Anne Arundel County on the west and the Kent Island area of Queen Anne’s County on the Eastern Shore. The worst backups have stretched to 14 miles heading east and up to nine miles heading west, while spillover traffic has swamped local roads.
The governor did not provide specifics of what the state would — or could — do, saying, “There is no real positive solution to make these problems and traffic backups disappear.”
However, he said he has asked the Maryland Department of Transportation to ensure the contractor is “working 24 hours per day” and exploring ways to accelerate work, such as by using faster-drying concrete.
Hogan said he also has directed the Maryland Transportation Authority, which operates the bridge, to remove all toll booths, which slow traffic, and implement cashless tolling at all times as soon as possible. That would be a longer-term solution, state officials have said, because it takes time to remove the toll booths, install overhead gantries and make other necessary changes.
The problems were caused by the recent closure of the westbound span’s right lane to replace the bridge deck. That has left two lanes to accommodate morning commuters, as well as Sunday evening traffic returning from beaches and large weekend events on the Eastern Shore.
The authority eased the worst eastbound backups by implementing all-cashless tolls from noon to 10 p.m. on Thursdays and Fridays, allowing motorists without an E-ZPass to pay by mail without the usual additional fee. The authority also resumed two-way traffic on the westbound span whenever necessary to clear particularly severe eastbound backups.
However, the occasional two-way operations now leave westbound traffic with one lane, quickly backing up traffic onto Kent Island.
Apparently responding to complaints from officials in Anne Arundel and Queen Anne’s counties that their suggestions were being ignored, Hogan said he also had directed state officials to “redouble their efforts” to address local concerns and “aggressively welcome any constructive ideas.”
In an emailed statement later Wednesday, the authority’s executive director, Jim Ports, said the agency and contractor have been discussing how to do different kinds of work simultaneously “to get multiple work zones up and running to ensure 24/7 progress and shorten the project duration.” The authority also will “redouble” work with local officials to reduce delays on both sides of the bay, Ports said.
The backups have resulted in some Queen Anne’s school buses regularly running up to 20 minutes late. Eastern Shore businesses complain that they’re losing customers, and Kent Island residents say they feel trapped at home on weekends. State agencies and some local businesses have begun offering flexible schedules for bridge commuters, while some Eastern Shore business leaders say they’re worried the backups will scare off visitors.
One Kent Island resident recently tweeted that local roads were so jammed with westbound bridge traffic that families had to ride bicycles to a school event. Another motorist recently caught in an 8.5-mile eastbound backup tweeted, “ABSOLUTELY UNACCEPTABLE. Fix this CIRCUS.”
Queen Anne’s County commissioner Stephen Wilson (R) said he was glad to hear the governor commit to accelerating the repairs. He also praised the state for ensuring that ambulances and other emergency vehicles kept a shoulder on westbound Route 50 to reach hospitals across the bridge.
But Wilson said he’s not sure what more the state can do.
“There’s no way to work around the sheer physics of compressing three lanes of traffic into two,” he said.
Commissioner James J. Moran (R), president of the Queen Anne’s board, said that he hopes the state will require the contractor to add more workers and that the state also should post police at ramps on Route 50 to prevent bridge-bound traffic from trying to skirt the backups via local roads.
“The project definitely needs to be done — it’s a safety issue — but we just have problems pushing the westbound span to one lane and pushing traffic onto our side streets,” Moran said.
Hogan rejected renewed calls by Comptroller Peter Franchot (D) to delay the $27 million project until the state finds better ways to reduce the backups. Because the repairs were deferred for more than a decade, the governor said, the “severely deteriorated” bridge deck had created “tremendous safety problems.”
Franchot said Wednesday that the state should suspend the repairs to plan more ways to reduce the traffic impacts rather than “doing it on the fly, after the fact, while people are sitting there.”
The state is studying potential locations for building a third span at or near the Bay Bridge but has no funding to build it.