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MDTA head: Chesapeake Bay Bridge weekend traffic was due to volume, weather

Brad Cole, a resident of Podickory Point just off U.S. 50, was nipping out for a quick errand in Annapolis before noon Friday.

On the way back, he was met with brake lights and bumper-to-bumper traffic on East College Parkway. Weekend travelers often use the road to bypass part of eastbound U.S. 50 to shave a few minutes off their trip. The result is secondary roads around the Bay Bridge clogged with cars for hours.

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When Cole arrived home, he clacked out an email to James Ports, executive director of the Maryland Transportation Authority, and copied other county and state officials, asking for help on the traffic issue that he says is a “living hell” during the summer and has grown worse over the years.

U.S. 50 and other roads around the Bay Bridge were jammed for miles on Friday. Backups extended at least 10 miles on the eastbound lane of U.S. 50, according to MDTA social media updates.

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“I’m looking to help find solutions not just shout at the problems,” Cole said in an interview Saturday. “It’s just frustrating, it’s not the land of pleasant living when it’s like this and, and that’s really what I’m trying to figure out — how can we get this place back to being the land of pleasant living when we’ve got so much through traffic.”

Ports quickly responded to Cole that the traffic was due to “too much volume and the weather conditions,” according to a copy of the email obtained by the Capital.

According to the MDTA’s social media, back-up on the eastbound lane of U.S. 50 was between four and five miles before noon and reached 10 miles around 2:45 p.m. and remained so through 5:30 p.m. Thursday.

There was steady rain in the Annapolis area for most of the morning before tapering off around 4 p.m. Wind speeds remained about 10 mph all day, reaching 15 mph at around 1 p.m., according to the National Weather Service.

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Those factors prevented bridge operators from switching to contraflow, which is when traffic can go in both directions on one span, safely, Ports wrote.

“This problem has been going on for decades. It ramped up with reach the beach initiatives and the enormous amount of economic development on both sides of the bridge as well as Ocean City,” Ports wrote in a later email. “Actually, it goes further back. Traffic became so bad after they built the first bridge (due to economic development) that they had to build a second one 20 years later.”

The director followed up with a long phone call to Cole to further explain the issues the transit authority deals with, especially during the summer months, Cole said.

Ports could not be reached for comment Saturday.

Cole said he was encouraged to hear about an ongoing infrastructure project to install an automated lane closure system on the Bay Bridge in Queen Anne’s County.

True Inspection Services, an Ohio and Maryland-based company, is providing construction management and other services for the project. According to the company’s website, it’s expected to cost $15 million.

“The system will be utilized by the William Preston Lane Jr. Memorial Bridge (Bay Bridge) operations and maintenance staff to remotely close lanes to allow contra-flow operations on the north or south bridges, and for incidents,” according to a description of the project on the company’s website.

To ease congestion, Gov. Larry Hogan has sought to build a third Bay Bridge span near the other two, an idea that has been met with opposition among some residents and elected officials.

On Thursday, Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman continued his public campaign against a third span during an appearance with Queen Anne’s County Commissioner Jim Moran on Baltimore public radio station WYPR.

Projections that back-ups could reach several hours year-round are flawed because he thinks the only way this increase will happen is by developing the Eastern Shore farmland, Pittman said during the interview.

“I know that a lot of residents don’t want that, and there’s a lot of opposition to building a third span and then later having to increase the width of route 50 through our county and on the other side to accommodate additional traffic,” he said.

A state-sponsored study on a third span is expected to be completed later this year or in early 2022.

County Councilmember Amanda Fiedler, R-Arnold, has introduced a resolution, R-32-21 in opposition to the completion of MDTA’s financial impact statement and record of decision for the proposed third span.

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