ANNAPOLIS – State officials have named a task force to find solutions to the worsening traffic problems on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, with a new bridge or bridge span among the top crowd-clearing options.
Transportation Secretary Robert L. Flanagan announced the creation of the Task Force on Traffic Capacity Across the Chesapeake Bay in response to a report released Wednesday that assessed transportation needs on the bridge. Traffic on the bridge is a common concern, most recently because of construction done on the westbound side.
The Transportation Needs Report says that by 2025 the number of vehicles crossing the bridge is expected to increase by 42 percent on a summer-weekend day and by 41 percent on an average weekday. The congestion will result in 12-hour backups on weekends and 2-3 hours on weekdays, according to Trent Kittleman, Transportation Authority Executive Secretary.
One of the options that the task force will probably look at is the addition of a new span to the William Preston Lane Jr. Memorial (Bay) Bridge, Flanagan confirmed.
“It’s definite that we need more capacity,” said Flanagan.
The goal of the task force, being led by both Sen. J. Lowell Stoltzfus, R-Somerset, and former Transportation Secretary O. James Lighthizer, is to search for feasible alternatives, while also examining environmental concerns, said Flanagan.
With congestion on the bridge already high, the time to do something about it is now, said Stoltzfus.
The task force will look at ways to maintain or improve Chesapeake Bay water quality, as is being done with other projects like the Inter-county Connector, said Flanagan. The ICC plans call for longer and more bridges to reduce the impact of the road on wetlands.
Another bridge will be a primary result of the task force’s work, said Flanagan, but the group will not be asked to identify any specific projects.
Construction on the current bridge, ongoing since January 2002, has been suspended until early next year.
Last month, contractors finished resurfacing cracked concrete on the left lane of the westbound span of the bridge. The lane had been closed since September after cracking was discovered in December 2003. The work resulted in transportation officials closing the other two lanes on the westbound side periodically, causing major traffic delays.
The eastbound side, which needs to be resurfaced by 2015, only has two lanes, making construction more difficult than on the three-lane westbound side, Flanagan said.
Fault for the work done on the bridge has not yet been determined, but memos published by the Baltimore Sun Wednesday show that a state engineer rejected advice from a subcontractor that warned against using a chemical specified for the project.
The memo from a project manager for Pioneer Contracting Co. in Odenton said that the chemical could break the bond between layers of concrete being applied to the westbound lanes.
The project manager’s advice was rejected, but after core samples taken from the center lane were provided to the Maryland Transportation Authority and tested, the state decided to omit use of a chemical from the specifications for work on the right lane on the westbound side, according to Pioneer’s lawyer, Mark Dachille.
The lawyer said a memo from chemist Harold L. Zeliger proves the cracking was caused by defective specifications, not anything that Pioneer did or failed to do.
“The contractor is hired to perform its work in accordance with plans and specifications, which Pioneer did,” said Dachille.
Flanagan said the memo appears reliable and his agency is looking into it.
“We’re taking this very, very seriously,” Flanagan said.
Even with the implication from the memos, Flanagan was not ready to make a judgment about fault without seeing all the facts.
“Jumping to conclusions now,” said Flanagan, “would hamper ultimately getting to the truth of what occurred.”