OCEAN CITY — If you drive anything bigger than a pick-up truck, you will not be allowed to drive on the Route 90 bridge until further notice.
On Wednesday, the Maryland State Highway Administration informed the town of Ocean City that an annual inspection of the Route 90 Bridge revealed a substantial structural flaw on an 85-foot section above the Assawoman Bay.
In a memo obtained from an anonymous source on Wednesday from City Manager Dennis Dare to all town department heads, City Council members and other assorted city-wide staff members, Dare reported that all departments should “immediately review their operations and institute procedures to comply with the restriction placed until [the bridge] is repaired.”
“The center girder over the boat channel was found to have failing pre-cast concrete and the strands are exposed,” read Dare’s email. “The expert bridge engineer brought in yesterday [by the SHA] recommended a 6,000 pound weight limit to be established.”
Simply put, the damage found to the bridge is substantial enough that the SHA will restrict vehicles driving on the portion of the bridge closest to Ocean City to small passenger cars, unloaded pickup trucks and small SUV’s.
This turn of events could effect area school children the most.
“We’ve already been in contact with the Board of Education and they know that they are going to have to reroute the school buses until further notice,” said SHA District Engineer Donnie Drewer. “We will also be placing the digital message boards at both ends of the bridge informing motorists of the new weight restrictions.”
Drewer told The Dispatch that the SHA is unsure how exactly they are going to proceed with amending the problem, and they have no idea how much it is going to cost, nor do they know if they are going to have to repair the flawed portion or if a full replacement of the aforementioned section is necessary.
“We just found it yesterday, so we aren’t sure if we are going to have to replace it or simply just have to fix the problem,” said Drewer. “First, we got to find the ‘fix’, then we have to take the steps to fix it, and then we have to find a way to handle all of the traffic coming in and out of town from now until cold weather while we fix it.”
There are several town events that will undoubtedly be affected by this new weight restriction and seemingly imminent bridge closing for “at least a month”, according to a reliable source, including the annual Ocean City Endless Summer Cruisin’ Event scheduled for Columbus Day weekend (Oct. 8-11).
“I’ve been on the phone with [Cruisin’ OC promoter] Bob Rothermel and filled him in on the situation and this should give him enough time to inform the cars coming down here that they may need to reroute their way into town,” said Dare, “but I truly see this as a convenience issue more so that a huge problem that can’t be fixed, so we’ll get through it like we did with bridge closings in the past.”
Dare says he thinks that a replacement of the section is more likely the remedy to this situation, and noted that although the work will be major, the amount of time that the bridge could be closed might be a much more optimistic scenario.
“Since it is pre-cast concrete, the sections can be made off-site, and brought in on a barge, which means that weather won’t be an issue to getting this project done,” said Dare. “The other thing to remember too, is that for the remainder of the fall season we will probably be only hosting 75,000 people a weekend in our town, and in the summer time we are seeing much more than that coming over the Route 50 bridge alone.”
Dare also added the fact that some vehicles will still be able to use the bridge in the interim will also help traffic patterns.
“Six thousand pounds is not a lot of weight,” said Dare. “That’s like a pick-up truck with nothing in it, and enforcing it may end up being another issue in itself, but at the very least, we aren’t dumping all the traffic from the bridge onto Route 50 and Route 54.”
Drewer explained the problem to be “underneath the bridge” and had to do with long wire strands being totally exposed in certain places due to high levels of stress from the estimated 18,000 vehicles that pass over the bridge on a daily basis.
Seemingly, the portion of the bridge that needs to be remedied sits at the highest point of the 38-year-old span itself, sitting just above the “boat channel” and is estimated to be a piece spanning 85-feet in length.
With that said, some say that there may come a point in the not so distant future when the entire section will be removed and replaced by the SHA.
“There’s a silver lining in all of this,” said Drewer. “The first is that we found the problem, and we are taking the steps to fix it. The second is that we are thanking our lucky stars that this happened on Oct. 1 and not on May 1.”