If you live in Maryland, chances are you aware of the two-year, $27 million Chesapeake Bay Bridge redecking project currently underway. If not, you may have already experienced its unprecedented travel backups for yourself (“Hogan says there’s no way to end Bay Bridge backups during maintenance work,” Oct. 16). For those who live on the Eastern Shore, specifically Queen Anne’s County, and have to commute across the bridge on a daily basis for work or school, the commute is downright aggravating to say the least. Many are calling for Maryland Transportation Authority to find other solutions while Queen Anne’s County officials sent a cease-and-desist letter concerning the construction.
To their credit, state officials have done as much pre-planning as possible and are doing the best they can. They have switched to “cashless tolling” and construction will be halted during the Thanksgiving holiday and the third lane will be in use Memorial Day through Labor Day next summer. While this project is chewing up even more of our precious time, keep in mind this bridge requires not only ongoing maintenance but sometimes major construction projects such as this one to keep drivers safe. It is estimated that 65,000 cars cross the Bay Bridge on weekdays while the weekend increases to right under 100,000. Who wants to cross a 50-year old, four-mile bridge that isn’t properly maintained?
To provide some perspective, Queen Anne’s County’s population hovered right around 18,000 in 1973 when the second Bay Bridge was completed. Today, the county has more than 50,000 residents. Maryland’s population in 1970 was under 4 million while we are over 6 million today. Our nation’s GDP has grown by 300% since 1980, and we are experiencing historically low unemployment rates. To bolster the economies on the Eastern Shore and Ocean City, many programs have been initiated to increase year-round visitors now, not just those traveling for summer holidays. No wonder traffic is backed up and delays are increasing. There are simply more cars and more people than when these bridges were initially constructed (which is why a third Bay Bridge to the Eastern Shore has now been proposed).
Removing one lane of traffic during construction is like adding 33% more cars. There is no way to rebuild the westbound span without impacting the commuters coming from the Eastern Shore to the Western Shore. When construction projects occur on land, such as the Baltimore Beltway, milling and overlay can occur at night and lanes can be reopened for the morning rush with repaving resuming at night. That luxury does not exist with rebuilding the Bay Bridge. Constructed out of concrete, it requires an extremely intricate and delicate process to blast to remove the old concrete down to the steel bars, then lay new concrete requiring a five-day cure period. Another unfortunate downside in the redecking project: There are no other alternate routes to get to the Eastern Shore, unless drivers go “up and over” by taking I-95 North in Maryland and then south through Delaware, which is just as time consuming for many folks.
Ferries and buses are not realistic and would actually take longer for those traveling to and from the Eastern Shore. In fact, the Bay Bridge replaced the original ferry service before the first bridge was constructed. For commuters and employers, consider flex hours for employees or allow them to work from home more frequently (even one or two days a week would help). For those who have no choice but to commute on a daily basis, use the time to catch up with friends and family, subscribe to interesting podcasts or listen to an audio book.
While it may feel like it now, remember, nothing lasts forever.
Wes Guckert, Baltimore
The writer is president and CEO of The Traffic Group, a traffic engineering and transportation planning firm.
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