Annapolis area motorists can expect traffic snarls for a while as a result of a flurry of road work, particularly plans to upgrade Weems Creek and College Creek bridges next spring, officials said last week.
During the next two years, Annapolis will be a hubbub of traffic projects, including the two bridge projects along Rowe Boulevard, which lead into the city's downtown area. There will be so much work that it will be nearly impossible for commuters to avoid delays, leaders warned at a public meeting Thursday.
City staffers even passed out a flier titled "So Many Roads to Nowhere," just in case drivers were already thinking about alternate routes to avoid the mayhem.
"Folks, it is going to be that bad," said Stephen B. Carr, a consultant who works on environmental matters for Annapolis.
City officials are warning residents that they may need to find alternative ways of getting to work. Annapolis may have to spend $1.5 million to buy extra buses and provide other services for commuters, said Mayor Ellen O. Moyer. She was not sure from where the money would come.
And business leaders are worried that the traffic projects could hurt the city's economy, especially in downtown, which already has a parking shortage.
"There will be an impact on downtown business and outer West Street business," said Bob Burdon, president and chief executive officer of the Annapolis and Anne Arundel County Chamber of Commerce.
More than 30 projects are under way or scheduled to begin in the Annapolis area during the next two years, including:
Widening the intersection of Taylor Avenue and Rowe Boulevard, near Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.
Upgrading West Street between Church Circle and Calvert Street -- the latest phase in a project to revitalize West Street near downtown.
Reconfiguring the Route 2 and U.S. 50 interchange. The $12 million project is under way, and when finished in spring 2005 will provide new ramp movements between Route 2 and U.S. 50 and a new merge lane on U.S. 50.
The two biggest projects will improve the Weems Creek and College Creek bridges, which are crossed by nearly 70,000 cars a day, making Rowe Boulevard one of the busiest streets in Annapolis. State workers are scheduled to begin the $20 million joint project in April and finish it almost two years later.
The 50-year-old Weems Creek bridge has to be completely replaced, but work will be divided into two phases. During the first phase, all four lanes of traffic will be funneled onto the west side of the bridge while the east side is torn down and rebuilt. Then workers will start on the west side, routing traffic to the newly built section.
When the project is finished, the bridge will be about 10 feet wider, although it will still only have four lanes. It will also have a wider median and a sidewalk. Nearby residents helped derail a plan for a wider bridge.
Workers at the same time will be replacing the deck and beams of the College Creek Bridge, closer to the State House. It will have sidewalks on both sides.
State officials said they would try to minimize the projects' impact on traffic by working as much as possible at off-peak travel times, including at night.
"Our goal is to maintain as many open lanes as possible," said Gregory D. Welker, a district engineer with the State Highway Administration.
Annapolis officials said they would encourage motorists to find other ways to get to work, and that they would try to interest local businesses in programs offering tax breaks for encouraging carpooling and alternative methods of transportation.
The city recently received a grant from the Chesapeake Bay Foundation to promote programs that provide financial incentives, including tax breaks, to businesses that get employees to walk or carpool to work.
"Very few businesses are using it," said Paula Chase-Hyman, the city employee who coordinates the programs.
But Burdon predicted that store and restaurant owners will do whatever it takes to stay profitable during the construction. "The business community downtown will be very willing to make the investment," he said.
The traffic delays are bound to cost the city money, Moyer said. She said the city would have to spend at least $250,000 to enhance bus service and an equal amount to improve water taxis. She said the city would also try to improve valet services and use more police officers to guide traffic and protect parking lots.
"It should be a fun two years," Moyers said.