Shorebound drivers ready to celebrate the Memorial Day weekend will provide the first real test today for Maryland highway and bridge improvements planned to ease the annual summer ordeal of reaching the beach -- and getting back.
Thomas E. Freburger, spokesman for the Maryland Transportation Authority, said the first new feature is 11 Chesapeake Bay Bridge toll booths with a computerized collection system, replacing nine old ones.
The new toll lanes, he said, have "only been on line for about the last 10 days, so this is really the first test."
An experienced toll-taker, he said, is able to handle about 400 transactions an hour. That means another 800 motorists an hour will pass during the bumper-to-bumper Memorial Day traffic periods -- usually noon to 10 p.m. today and 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday.
Traffic along U.S. 50-301 just east of the bridge, traditionally the site of the biggest tie-ups, is expected to flow freely. A new six-lane bridge opened at Kent Narrows in December, bypassing the venerable four-lane drawbridge that used to bring traffic to a temper-heating standstill.
Several signals along U.S. 50-301 near Grasonville have been replaced by overpasses. The last two signal intersections closed last night, said Russ Ulrich, spokesman for the State Highway Administration.
Reconstruction of U.S. 50-301, from the bridge to the split of U.S. 50 and U.S. 301, from four to six lanes is also complete.
"We've been trying to reinforce to people that if everyone decides to go down to the Eastern Shore at the same time and come back at the same time there will still be problems," Mr. Ulrich said.
He said motorists should "travel smart" by avoiding peak hours, and listen to radio reports and the state's Travel Advisory Radio (560AM) for special instructions.
Backups remain likely this weekend and for most of the summer at two highway construction sites -- on U.S. 50 in Annapolis south of the Severn River Bridge and at the intersection of U.S. 50 and Cape St. Clair Road north of the Severn.