ANNAPOLIS – Drivers already experiencing delays on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge should expect more in the coming weeks as lane closures were added Friday.
Beginning Oct. 25, the center lane on the westbound side of the William Preston Lane Jr. Memorial Bridge will be closed from 10 a.m. to 5 a.m. Monday through Thursday.
The left lane on the westbound span has been closed since September after cracking was discovered on initial resurfacing work performed in December 2003. All work on the westbound lanes must be redone.
The first resurfacing was done with microsilica concrete, which contains silica fibers, because it allowed contractors to work in colder weather. After the cracks were discovered, officials suggested using latex-modified concrete for the replacement work because it is easier to put down successfully.
Now, contractors need to maximize the time they can work on the bridge because the latex mixture can only be poured in dry weather with temperatures above 45 degrees and light winds.
Closing the center lane will allow contractors to maximize time and space to work, said Robert L. Flanagan, state transportation secretary. If the resurfacing on the left lane is not complete while the weather permits, use of the lane will be lost for the entire winter, said Flanagan.
“The next few weeks are going to be extremely difficult for all of us who travel the Bay Bridge, there’s no way to sugarcoat the situation,” said Flanagan.
Flanagan could not predict the extent of delays drivers will face. The capacity for one lane is roughly 1,400 vehicles per hour and data indicates traffic ranges from 1,500 to 1,800 vehicles during weekday hours, Flanagan said, resulting in a “theoretical” excess of 200-300 vehicles an hour.
“I expect there to be very serious backups,” said Flanagan.
In addition to the center lane closure, the right lane will close at 9 p.m. and reopen at 5 a.m. Monday through Thursday. On Fridays, the center lane will close at 8 p.m. and reopen at 9 a.m., while the right lane will close at 9 p.m. and reopen at 7 a.m.
On Saturdays, the center lane will close at 8 p.m. and the right lane at 10 p.m., with the lanes reopening at 9 a.m. and 7 a.m. respectively. On Sundays, the center lane will be closed from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. and the right lane closed from 12 a.m. to 5 a.m.
The only break drivers will get is on Election Day, when the center lane will not be closed, or when bad weather prohibits work.
Already, six of the past 11 nights of pouring cement have been interrupted by weather, said Joe Waggoner, MdTA deputy executive secretary. As a result, transportation officials were unable to give a definite timetable for completing the rework.
As of last week, officials had said the work on the left lane was expected to be completed the Wednesday before Thanksgiving.
“I can’t predict that any better than I can predict the weather,” Flanagan said of the work being done by Thanksgiving or earlier. “We are going to complete the work as quickly as possible, but it is clearly weather-dependant.”
Drivers are asked to seek alternate routes. Last week, AAA Mid-Atlantic sent a letter to the MdTA asking it to reconsider a plan for constant lane closures. The next day, the MdTA announced an extra hour of closures to one lane. “Once again, motorists are being asked to be patient and the burden continues to increase,” said John White, AAA spokesman. – 30 – CNS-10-22-04