Thanksgiving travelers headed to the Eastern Shore are expected to face major delays at Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay Bridge because repair work on the westbound span is now scheduled to continue through the holiday week — part of a state plan announced last week to expedite a two-year project that has caused massive backups.

The Maryland Transportation Authority had planned to reopen the westbound span’s right lane, which has been closed since late September, for the entire holiday week. However, the lane will remain closed to allow crews to continue working and save time by not having to spend weeks removing concrete barriers and re-striping pavement, the authority said.

Authority spokeswoman Kelly Melhem said bridge-bound motorists are encouraged to travel outside the busiest Thanksgiving times: Wednesday through Friday for eastbound traffic, Thursday through Sunday for westbound traffic. Midday on Thanksgiving Day also is particularly busy, Melhem said.

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“We’re expecting major delays in both directions,” Melham said.

The changes came in response to Gov. Larry Hogan’s directive earlier this month for the authority to speed up the two-year project to replace the badly deteriorated bridge deck. Hogan (R) said he was “furious” about the ensuing backups, which have stretched up to 14 miles, snarled commutes, jammed local roads on both sides of the bridge and put a damper on weekend travel.

The long-term lane closure reduced the westbound span to two tighter lanes and to one lane during two-way operations to reduce particularly severe backups at the eastbound span. The eastbound span has backed up more because the state is permitting two-way operations on the westbound span much less often.

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Transportation Authority officials said they did not know yet how much time the changes would save or how much they would add to the $27 million cost. However, Melhem said, “we do feel confident that we can shave weeks off the project and potentially months.”

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Some of those costs will stem from the contractor adding crews that have begun working round-the-clock, seven days a week, in simultaneous work zones, the authority said.

Work has been expedited to bring all-electronic tolling to the Bay Bridge in 2020 to negate the need for motorists to stop at toll booths. Motorists who do not have an E-ZPass transponder receive a bill in the mail based on a photo of their license plate. Previously, the authority had no timeline for implementing all-electronic tolling at the bridge.

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The authority recently implemented all-electronic tolling at the bridge on Thursdays and Fridays from noon to 10 p.m. in an attempt to reduce eastbound backups during the repair work. However, that “cashless” tolling will now end at 8 p.m. on those days to allow crews to close the westbound span earlier for overnight repairs, the authority said. Westbound traffic shares the eastbound span overnight.

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The state also is encouraging Eastern Shore hotels to offer incentives for travelers to “go early and stay late” throughout the winter holiday season to avoid the bridge at peak times.

Melhem said the westbound span’s right lane is still scheduled to reopen after April for the area’s busy summer travel season.

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