ANNAPOLIS — State Comptroller Peter Franchot took aim at the increasingly long traffic backups at the Bay Bridge during the regular session of the Board of Public Works Wednesday, Oct. 2, calling the situation “unacceptable.”
Pete K. Rahn, secretary of the Maryland Department of Transportation, addressed the recent standstill at the bridge on Monday, Sept. 30, when westbound backups were reported as far east as the Xtra Mart in Chester, nearly the width of Kent Island.
Commuters reported travel times ranging from an extra five minutes to an hour Monday, when the full closure of the right lane of the westbound Bay Bridge span commenced for the Maryland Transportation Authority’s $27 million deck rehabilitation project. The full right-lane closure continues through April 2020, except during the Thanksgiving holiday.
Eastern Shore residents were late for work, school and doctor appointments.
“If this $27 million bridge maintenance project had been brought before the Board of Public Works, none of this would have happened,” Franchot said. “We would have demanded there be advanced planning for the obvious traffic congestion that would happen. There would have been steps taken to meet with local entities, but now MDOT is just trying to make do, and it’s a complete mess.”
Franchot said Rahn will return to the Board of Public Works to give an update on what has been done to alleviate traffic headaches.
Franchot said since “advanced planning was never scheduled, it can only be chalked up to negligence and arrogance.” The transition to all electronic tolling has been long overdue, he added, since much of the eastbound bridge traffic collects at traditional tolling gates.
MDOT and the Maryland Transportation Authority are accepting public comments on new rates with the move to full-time electronic tolling beginning at the Bay Bridge in 2020.
“The way to avoid this is have all these MDTA contracts before the BPW,” Franchot said. “We’re the only accountable and transparent board capable of demanding that something like this move forward only after it’s been carefully planned. Unfortunately, this contract did not do that.”
Rahn said such traffic headaches were not foreseen and that led to many motorists getting delayed for lack of planning.
“I apologize to the BPW and to the public that they experienced what they did, and we’re doing everything we can to address this going forward,” Rahn said. “I admit that what happened was not anticipated and we did not have a response ready for it. I think that goes to the point of (inadequate) planning.”
By removing the “antiquated” toll plazas, as Franchot called them, the choke points during high-volume times on the bridge would be less congested. Rahn said implementing that system would require an office that could handle the logistics of processing the billing.
“The option we have right now is a cashless system with video tolling on Thursdays and Fridays from noon to 10 p.m. to begin,” Rahn. said
Franchot later announced the Beat the Bay Bridge Blues Policy, a voluntary program for comptroller’s office employees, effective Oct. 7, offering Eastern Shore residents who work in Annapolis or Baltimore several options to travel more efficiently to and from their jobs.
If applicable, employees can work five days a week, with staggered start times. This will allow some employees to start earlier or later in the workday, thereby avoiding most of the major rush hour delays in crossing the Bay Bridge.
They can work four 10-hour days Monday through Thursday, with Friday off each week. The goal of this option is to reduce the number of vehicles on the Bay Bridge during the Friday commute.
When available and appropriate, employers can allow some employees to work remotely at the agency’s Call Center or branch office in Salisbury. Employees who carpool with at least four agency colleagues per vehicle for 10 days will be awarded four hours of administrative leave.