Shortcuts denied to beach-goers

August 30, 2008|By Julie Scharper | Julie Scharper,

It's an old trick for crafty Maryland motorists - dodge backups en route to the Bay Bridge by cutting through the nearby community of Cape St. Claire. One minute you're stuck on U.S. 50, the next you're sailing along suburban streets and, bada boom, you're at the bridge.

But when hundreds of motorists take the shortcut at the same time, things aren't so speedy. During the past week, miles-long backups triggered by the double whammy of bridge repairs and a looming holiday weekend have inspired hordes to cut through the community.

And that brought the traffic nightmare to the residents of Cape St. Claire.

"We're on a peninsula," said Kathy Kohlhafer, 65, who lives and works on the cape. "We're stuck between a rock and a hard place."

At one point earlier in the week, a sign on U.S. 50 just before Annapolis warned of a six-mile backup. Just before 4 p.m. yesterday - when backups reached about four miles, the longest of the day - officials decided to waive tolls to expedite traffic for the first time in the bridge's history, said Maryland Transportation Authority spokeswoman Teri Moss.

Tolls were not collected for about two hours, Moss said.

The heavy traffic made parents late picking up kids from school, caused employees to leave work early and generally made the residents of the quiet suburb want to tear their hair out.

After receiving numerous complaints from residents, Anne Arundel County police cracked down on the short-cutters. They posted a sign on College Parkway warning motorists that the road was for local traffic only past the entrance ramp for U.S. 50 just past Broadneck Park. And officers waited on another entrance ramp further down the road, handing tickets and warnings to drivers who had cut through.

"If you're going to the beach, you're going to be prepared for some delays," said Lt. Thomas Wheeler, who heads the Eastern District police station. "There shouldn't be that type of wait when you're just trying to go home."

Not many school buses travel on U.S. 50 or near the bridge, but a few buses were delayed Thursday afternoon, an Anne Arundel County schools spokesman said yesterday.

Residents said that the officers' efforts had led to some reduction in traffic. But many said that after spending hours stuck in traffic earlier in the week, they were staying home as much as possible.

Baltimore Sun reporter Nicole Fuller contributed to this article.

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