Maryland steps up commuter bus runs

The move is to help relieve Bay Bridge congestion during an estimated 10 weeks of emergency repairs

August 29, 2008|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,michael.dresser@balltsun.com

Maryland transportation officials will beef up commuter bus service from Kent Island to Annapolis and Washington next week to help relieve congestion on the Bay Bridge as it undergoes an estimated 10 weeks of emergency repairs to its corroded barrier walls.

Gov. Martin O'Malley announced that starting Tuesday, the Maryland Transit Administration would add six weekday round trips to routes 922 and 950 from Kent Island.

The added buses are being brought into service after Maryland Transportation Secretary John D. Porcari ordered the closing this week of one of the two lanes of the bridge's eastbound span. Inspectors examining the bridge after a fatal Aug. 10 crash in which a tractor-trailer broke through the bridge wall found corrosion in the steel anchoring its concrete barriers, and Porcari decided that repairs would begin immediately.

O'Malley said yesterday that the new bus service is an effort to ease the impact on Eastern Shore commuters.

"By adding more express bus service to downtown Washington, transit can become an option for more people. Every driver riding a bus means one less car on the bridge, thus alleviating the potential impact of bridge congestion while the necessary repairs continue," O'Malley said in a statement.

The decision to add bus service came as the Maryland Transportation Authority rejected a call by an Eastern Shore state senator for an independent inspection of the Bay Bridge.

Ronald L. Freeland, the authority's executive secretary, said in response to the call from Republican Sen. E. J. Pipkin that the agency's inspection regimen already exceeds federal standards.

"We certainly respect Senator Pipkin's request for an independent safety inspection. However, we are confident that any inspection that meets industry standards would disclose that the bridge is in good condition and has no significant issues regarding its safety and structural integrity," Freeland said in an e-mailed statement.

After the Aug. 10 crash in which a tractor-trailer plunged into the bay, killing the driver, inspectors using ultrasound and ground-penetrating radar found that moisture has corroded some of the steel that binds the concrete barriers to the bridge's deck.

The authority's chief engineer said the corrosion could not have been detected by routine visual inspection. Pipkin said the findings had undermined his faith in the inspection process.

In his response, Freeland said the most recent Bay Bridge inspections were performed by an independent engineering consulting firm.

The added commuter service on the bridge includes two round trips on the No. 922 route and four on the No. 950. The lines pick up passengers at the Kent Narrows Park and Ride under U.S. 50 at Exit 41 and the Stevensville Park and Ride at 50 and Route 8. After making stops in Annapolis, they continue to downtown Washington. The one-way fare is $5.

Porcari said the expanded service would continue in place for at least six months - well after the emergency repairs are expected to be complete. He said the MTA would evaluate ridership levels after that period and decide whether demand was sufficient to keep the expanded service.

MTA spokeswoman Jawauna Greene said there should be sufficient parking to accommodate an influx of commuters because the MTA had already been working to expand its lot capacity. The Kent Island commuter bus service had already been growing in popularity as a result of high gas prices, with a 50 percent gain in ridership in July over the same month last summer.

The additional bus service will provide enough seats for about 330 commuters each day.

While officials scrambled to add buses, authority officials reported that work was continuing on the bridge even as many travelers were making plans to travel to the beach for the Labor Day weekend.

The authority reported yesterday that it had found corrosion in some barriers on the southwest stretch of the span, just past the toll plaza, and were beginning repairs. The first signs of corrosion were detected in the southeast corner, near the site of the crash.

According to the agency, inspectors are still looking for signs of corrosion on the northern side of the bridge. The authority expects to operate only a single lane on the eastbound bridge for the next 10 weeks.

During that time, trucks wider than 12 feet will not be permitted to use the bridge for eastbound travel and must find an alternate route.

The authority is recommending that travelers cross the bridge at off-peak hours or take a northern route around the head of the bay to beach destinations.

Two-way operations will be in effect on the bridge's westbound span today between 9 a.m. and 10 p.m. and tomorrow from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. The westbound span will carry three lanes of westbound traffic Sunday and Monday as many travelers return from the beach, as well as during the morning rush hour Tuesday.

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