State chooses design to replace bridge into Ocean City

Replacement of U.S. 50 span may be 25 years off

August 18, 2010|By Michael Dresser, The Baltimore Sun

The State Highway Administration has chosen a new drawbridge as its long-term plan to replace the U.S. 50 bridge into Ocean City, selecting a plan that would cause less disruption of existing property than the leading alternative.

Known as the Harry W. Kelley Bridge after the late, colorful mayor of Ocean City, the existing drawbridge was completed in 1942 but received a new deck several years ago and is believed to be in good shape.

The plan now goes to the Federal Highway Administration, which must sign off on the project before federal funds could be spent. Officials said the plan involves displacement of eight existing properties, compared with 37 for a larger, non-drawbridge alternative.

For now, a new bridge is part of the state's long-term transportation plan. There is no money in Maryland's six-year spending plan for engineering or construction, said SHA spokesman Charlie Gischlar.

SHA planning director Greg Slater said a replacement bridge is not expected for 20 to 25 years — not an unusual timeline for projects of that scale.

Plans call for removal of the center, drawbridge section of the existing span, leaving its ends standing for recreational purposes such as fishing.

Slater said engineering considerations would have favored a higher bridge that would not have to open. But he said that would have required extensive clearing of property, prompting the state to choose a new drawbridge parallel to the existing span. The new span would be 30 feet high compared with the existing 18 feet, enabling 75 percent to 80 percent of boat traffic to pass through without raising the drawbridge.

"To me, these projects can't be about engineering," Slater said. "They have to be about the communities they are in."

The plan was chosen after many rounds of public meetings, hearings and consultation with local leaders.

"It was a 100 percent consensus almost across the board that this was the right way to go," Slater said.

In making the announcement, the SHA put videos on its website that attempt to show how the new route would appear to a driver. The website also shows two rejected alternatives.

"It beats the old days when you described it in words," Gischlar said.

The video can be seen at

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