OCEAN CITY – The trip to Ocean City could become more difficult for visitors trying to reach the beach over the next two years as Maryland Transportation Authority (MdTA) officials this week told resort business leaders the state is getting ready to embark on a major re-decking project on the westbound Chesapeake Bay Bridge.
MdTA officials were on hand on Wednesday to brief the town’s Economic Development Committee (EDC) on the scope and duration of the major renovation of the Bay Bridge. The road surface on the “new” bridge, built in 1973, is in danger of falling into disrepair and a major $60 million preservation is needed to extend the life of the span.
Planning for the project began in December 2006 with actual construction slated to begin in September of this year, and it is expected to be completed in early 2009. In the meantime, motorists utilizing the bridge, including the millions of tourists heading to Ocean City and the resort areas, can expect delays.
Much of the work will be done in non-peak travel times on Monday through Thursday with the entire westbound span closed from around 8 p.m. to about 5:30 a.m. each night with two-way traffic planned for the eastbound span. The plan calls for the bridge to re-open each morning in time for the morning rush hour, although there will often be times when just a single lane of the span is open for daytime traffic.
MdTA Project Manager Geoffrey V. Kolberg, chief engineer of the Office of Engineering and Construction of the MdTA, outlined the detailed project plans for EDC members on Wednesday.
“All project work is being scheduled to minimize traffic impacts, but there will likely be the inevitable setbacks,” he said. “There are numerous complex tasks that must be performed precisely every night that pose potential challenges that may prevent the bridge from fully opening on time each morning.”
The project is scheduled to preserve and improve the through truss and suspension portions of the westbound span. Large sections of failing concrete roadway will be replaced with new pre-fabricated concrete panels. About 300 new panels, ranging from 15 feet to 49 feet long and weighing from 43,000 to 90,000 pounds will be fabricated by the contractor at an off-site facility in Sparrows Point and floated down to the Bay Bridge by barge where they will be carefully lifted into place by huge cranes.
“The panels will be fabricated at an off-site location where they can be carefully monitored and controlled,” said Kolberg. “It will be like putting together a giant jigsaw puzzle because no two panels are the same, but we are certain this is the best way to do it.”
State officials are hoping the project will go much smoother than the last re-decking project on the Bay Bridge, which involved milling several inches from the road surface and replacing it with new concrete right on top of the old surface. That project was considered a failure when the new surface did not bond correctly with the milled surface and began to fail shortly after the project was complete. It is still tied up in the courts.
“Everybody probably remembers Phase I of the project and probably not fondly,” he said. “That was a highly unsuccessful project, but most of the elements of this project are completely different.”
Kolberg said the preservation project on the new span has been carefully planned to minimize the impacts on through-traffic to the resort areas as well as the daily commute.
“We’ll actually have a couple of night rehearsals before we get into the replacement work,” he said. “Everything has been story-boarded like a script. It’s going to be a very tight schedule.”