SANDY POINT — The center lane on of the westbound span of the William Preston Lane Jr. Memorial (Bay) Bridge will be closed from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. weekdays beginning Tuesday, Nov. 5, for bridge work, the Maryland Transportation Authority announced Monday evening, Nov. 4.
“This off-peak timeframe avoids impacts during morning and afternoon rush hours,” said Kelly Melhem, MDTA spokesman, in a news release. “The MDTA will continue to evaluate this timeframe and may adjust the work schedule based on weather and traffic volume determination.”
In what has been an ongoing battle for information, Queen Anne’s County officials again received little to no notice of MDTA’s changing plans. County Commission President Jim Moran said he learned of the new closure about an hour before the official announcement — and he was contacted by County Administrator Todd Mohn, not MDTA.
“They haven’t been the best communicators,” said Scott Haas, director of Queen Anne’s County Emergency Services. He said he had not received official notice of the change at the time of the interview Monday night.
“We’re already five weeks into this,” Moran said, referring the $27 million redecking project for lane one of the westbound span. The right lane has been closed to traffic since Sept. 30.
The entire span is shutdown for construction work overnight, beginning most nights as early as 8 p.m. and usually reopening about 5 a.m.
Westbound traffic usually backs up on Kent Island during the morning rush hour commute, with eastbound traffic backing up in Anne Arundel County during the evening commute.
Closing another lane “means we’ll be down to one-third capacity on the bridge,” Moran said. “People have already changed doctor’s appointments, plans with friends …” to accommodate the existing backups. Now those plans are likely to be disrupted.
“I want to see how much it backs up,” Moran said. “I expect them to open contraflow on the eastbound bridge if we get a big backup on the Eastern Shore.”
Haas said he and his department have “made several different maneuvers” to compensate for the backups caused by bridge work.
“We approached the state medical director and asked the state to be more flexible with protocols, especially aviation,” Haas said. “And Maryland State Police Aviation agreed.”
He said Emergency Services has the “green light” to fly a high priority patient if the need arises.
Haas also met with Shore Health Systems officials and asked them to allow higher acuity patients to be taken to the emergency center in Queenstown. He said Shore Health has made every effort to make its facilities more accessible.
“The good news is there has not been a case where we could not get a patient to the hospital,” Haas said.
One step Emergency Services has taken is to shift units, moving one of the north county ambulances to the station next to the fields at the Matapeake schools complex. Haas has 24/7 paramedic units at Matapeake, Queenstown, Centreville, Church Hill and Sudlersville, and a supervisor at Kent Narrows.
He said he stations two units at Matapeake on heavy traffic days. “It’s easier to travel opposite the backup than to try to get to Kent Island,” Haas said.
The number one class of patient he hears from are expectant mothers who want to be assured they will be able to deliver their baby with their obstetrician at their hospital of choice, Haas said.
“It’s rare that we can’t get across the bridge, and usually with a maternity case, you have plenty of time to deal with it,” he said.
If you have an emergency, don’t wait because you think the bridge might be backed up, call for help; let us determine where you need to go, he said.
MDTA said the reason for the center lane closures is to take advantage of the warmer daytime temperatures.
“The latex modified concrete overlay material used for the project needs to be placed at temperatures of at least 45 degrees, with at least a double-lane closure in effect,” Melhem said. “The concrete overlay is currently being placed overnight, but the work window is shrinking as temperatures are regularly dropping below 45 degrees.”
Moran said he understood the need for warmer temperatures, but that curing the concrete is a process that takes days not hours.
“I pour concrete for a living.” Moran said. “Bridge are the worst” with cold air circulating above and below.
He added that the first section of the lane worked on is almost all poured, “and it looks good.”
During the weekday center lane closures, wide-loads (permit vehicles greater than 10 feet wide) will be restricted due to the 11-feet lanes and should adjust westbound travel times, Melhem said.
As announced Oct. 29, the MDTA is moving forward on a series of steps to shorten the duration of the Bay Bridge work and mitigate traffic impact on commuters, visitors and local residents. Closing the center lane temporarily during daytime hours will continue these efforts to expedite the project, MDTA said.