Lane clo­sures planned for Ch­ester River Bridge

Record Observer - - Front Page - By PETER HECK pheck@thekent­coun­

CH­ESTER­TOWN — The State High­way Ad­min­is­tra­tion plans to close one lane of the Ch­ester River bridge for five weeks, start­ing Mon­day, April 18 to re­place steel stringers un­der the draw por­tion of the span.

The 24-hours-a-day clo­sures would re­duce traf­fic to a sin­gle lane for three to five days each week, de­pend­ing on how long each of the five stringers takes to re­place.

The news, de­liv­ered at the Kent County com­mis­sion­ers’ meet­ing Tues­day, April 5, stunned lo­cal of­fi­cials and au­di­ence mem­bers. It was the first time the SHA men­tioned it had to close the bridge be­fore July, when paint­ing is sched­uled to be­gin. The paint­ing work will close the bridge to all traf­fic for up to four weeks be­gin­ning July 18.

Robert Rager, an SHA com­mu­nity li­ai­son of­fi­cial, said trav­el­ers cross­ing the bridge should ex­pect back­ups, and should plan al­ter­nate routes where prac­ti­cal. He pre­dicted “sig­nif­i­cant queue­ing” on both sides of the bridge due to the sin­gle-lane ac­cess. He said the SHA is look­ing for ways to min­i­mize flag­ging queues.

Back­ups on Maple Av­enue, which leads to the bridge from the Ch­ester­town side, could im­pede traf- fic on sev­eral main streets feed­ing into the street. An es­ti­mated 15,000 ve­hi­cles cross the bridge each day, Rager said af­ter the meet­ing.

Flag­gers will di­rect traf­fic and al­low emer­gency per­son­nel to cross with­out de­lay when needed, Rager said. The SHA is work­ing with emer­gency ser­vices on both sides of the bridge to pro­vide ac­cess for am­bu­lances, fire and po­lice ve­hi­cles as needed, he said.

Rager said he was sur­prised the com­mis­sion­ers weren’t in­formed. He said SHA of­fi­cials work­ing with the Ch­ester River Bridge Clos­ing Task Force were sup­posed to have told the task force the plans to close the bridge for the steel work.

Com­mis­sioner Bill Short, who is a mem­ber of the task force, said this was the first he heard of sig­nif­i­cant clos­ings due to prepara­tory work. The task force, com­pris­ing of­fi­cials from Kent and Queen Anne’s coun­ties, SHA en­gi­neers, lo­cal busi­ness own­ers, rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the hos­pi­tal, Wash­ing­ton Col­lege, emer­gency ser­vices, law en­force­ment and res­i­dents from both sides of the river, has been meet­ing since Jan­uary 2015.

County Ad­min­is­tra­tor Shel­ley Her­man said the county knew the SHA would be do­ing prepara­tory work on the bridge, but was not told specifics of the sched­ule or of the need for ex­tended lane clo­sures.

“I sat in a meet­ing with (Comptroller Peter Fran­chot) and de­fended you guys,” Short said. He said the SHA “made an ass of me” with its last-minute no­ti­fi­ca­tion of the April bridge clo­sures.

Fran­chot ques­tioned the sched­ule for clos­ing the bridge for paint­ing af­ter a lo­cal restau­ra­teur wrote say­ing it would cost him cus­tomers dur­ing peak tourist sea­son.

Short asked Her­man to read aloud a let­ter he sent to state Sen. Steve Her­shey, R-36-Up­per Shore, and mem­bers of the Dis­trict 36 del­e­ga­tion Mon­day, April 4 out­lin­ing the task force’s ef­forts to in­form the pub­lic of the July clo­sure and to min­i­mize dis­rup­tion of lo­cal busi­nesses. The let­ter in­cluded min­utes of the task force’s meet­ings.

The let­ter con­cluded, “It is my be­lief we need to pro­ceed as planned. The County and the State High­way Ad­min­is­tra­tion worked col­lab­o­ra­tively with the com­mu­nity and there should not be a state over­ride of the process.”

Short said he would now have to “reach out and apol­o­gize” to Fran­chot and the del­e­ga­tion. “This isn’t over yet,” he said.

Com­mis­sion Pres­i­dent Wil­liam Pick­rum said the com­mis­sion­ers have made ef­forts to pre­pare the com­mu­nity for the full clo­sure in July. He de­scribed the news of the April clos­ings as “an un­pleas­ant sur­prise.” He said the last-minute no­ti­fi­ca­tion was bad pub­lic re­la­tions by the SHA.

Au­di­ence mem­bers re­acted an­grily, shout­ing out ob­jec­tions and in­ter­rupt­ing Rager sev­eral times. One woman walked out say­ing she bet­ter leave be­fore she got thrown out for dis­rupt­ing the meet­ing.

Rager said the SHA could have in­formed the county about the clos­ings sooner, but it didn’t know the fi­nal sched­ule un­til now. He said the time was cho­sen to avoid con­flicts with Wash­ing­ton Col­lege com­mence­ment, sched­uled for Satur­day, May 21.

The next meet­ing of the bridge task force is sched­uled for 9 a.m. Fri­day, April 15 in the county com­mis­sion­ers hear­ing room at 400 High St., Ch­ester­town.


The drawspan of the Ch­ester River Bridge which is sched­uled to un­dergo a ma­jor over­haul this sum­mer. Pre­lim­i­nary work will close one lane of the bridge for five weeks be­gin­ning April 18, ac­cord­ing to the State High­way Ad­min­is­tra­tion. The bridge will be com­pletely closed for up to four weeks be­gin­ning in July.

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