Queen Anne’s County officials want the state to stop using a new two-way traffic pattern on the Bay Bridge, saying that while it might ease construction-related congestion in Anne Arundel County it’s making it worse on their side of the bay.
In a letter sent to Maryland Transportation Secretary Pete Rahn on Friday, members of the County Commissioners said school buses are now being affected by traffic backed up by two-way traffic on the westbound span during the week.
“Initiation of contraflow severely impacts our bus schedules for both the primary and secondary runs,” the commission wrote, according to a copy of the letter. "School buses and/or parents could not pick up students on schedule due to mainline backups on U.S. 50 and all of the side roads being gridlocked.”
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The five lanes on the twin Bay Bridge spans have been reduced to as few as three as part of a $27 million restoration project that started this month. The project will strip away all but the bridge skeleton to replace decking and seal the bridge deck. The steel rail posts on the side of the bridge also will be replaced. The work on the 4.3-mile bridge is expected to continue until 2021, with breaks for Thanksgiving traffic and during summer months.
Officials have made several different attempts to curb the disruptive traffic, including temporarily waiving all tolls, and implementing cashless tolling on some days. Still, traffic has stacked up for miles in both directions.
Rahn released a statement Monday saying that the Maryland Transportation Authority, which oversees the Bay Bridge and other state toll facilities, will continue to work with Queen Anne’s officials.
I’m contemplating we need to sue the state. There comes a time when the state dumps so much on the citizens of Queen Anne’s County, it just becomes unlawful...— Queen Anne's County Commissioner James Moran
The Queen Anne’s County school bus system has two runs, the first to pick up high school and middle school students and a second run for elementary school students. Buses have been running late for the first run, by at least 20 or 30 minutes. said Sidney Pinder, chief operations officer for county schools.
“It impacts the second tier run. Once people start getting off Route 50 and try and go on the back roads that makes things even more congested,” he said.
Traffic has also become a problem for special needs education. Students who go to Baltimore, for example, have gotten stuck in traffic for one or two hours at least once, Pinder said.
Principals are working on plans for students who are forced to stay late while waiting for a bus, Pinder said.
“We have sat down with principals to say, there is going to be a chance that you’ll have students stay later than normal because of congestion,” he said.
[ Anne Arundel executive blasts Maryland toll officials after Bay Bridge traffic delays ]
The schools went over topics like additional food to serve and extending hours for the staff and teachers. Parents also have problems with picking up their children, Pinder added.
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“There is no solution because you are on an island and there is only one way on and one way off,” he said.
County officials have said the backups also are disrupting transportation for emergency vehicles, stranded commuter bus passengers and created problems for delivery truck drivers.
“I’m contemplating we need to sue the state," County Commissioner James Moran said during the Oct. 8 meeting in Centreville. "There comes a time when the state dumps so much on the citizens of Queen Anne’s County, it just becomes unlawful...”
Moran and other county officials have long complained about the impact of heavy traffic on Kent Island and Stevensville, where the bulk of the county population lives. He said the county has proposed using deputy sheriffs to keep Route 50 motorists from using local roads as a bypass, or holding traffic further west to keep Kent Island residents from being trapped. Neither idea has gained any traction with state officials.
But he said that the new pattern, which puts two-way traffic on the westbound span to relieve congestion but reduces the speed to 25-35 mph, was put in place after the first weekend of construction caused a 15-mile backup in Anne Arundel County.
State officials took steps to institute cashless tolls after Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman criticized the decision to use that technology in other parts of the state, but not at the Bay Bridge. He said Monday he empathized with the problem across the bay.
“We do have a lot of common ground on this,” he said. “The problem is we both lack the information to be sure our recommendations will be the right ones.”