- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
Commuters using the Potomac River bridge can expect delays of 15 to 20 minutes in both directions for the next two months as state crews close one of the two lanes to conduct a detailed inspection, according to the Maryland Transportation Authority.
Inspections on the Gov. Harry W. Nice Memorial Bridge, which links southern Charles County with King George, Va., will take place as weather permits from about 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Thursday, a news release states. They are scheduled so as to leave both lanes open during morning and evening rush hour, making the drive easier for commuters, MdTA spokesman John Sales wrote in an email. During the inspections, which will begin Sept. 10, north- and southbound traffic will take turns crossing the bridge, directed by flaggers, Sales wrote.
The inspections will run in eight- to 10-minute segments to minimize disruptions. Backups on each side of the bridge should be less than half a mile long, Sales wrote.
“The purpose of the annual inspection program is to document the physical condition of the bridge and to identify changes from the previous inspection records to ensure that the current service requirements are maintained,” he wrote. “During the upcoming inspection of the Nice Bridge, the inspectors will be looking in detail at the condition of the bridge, documenting that condition, noting any deficiencies found and developing repair recommendations for any deficiencies found. Typical items the inspectors look for are rusting of steel elements, concrete deterioration, paint conditions, etc.”
It’s reassuring that the bridge is getting a detailed inspection, said Charles County Commissioner Ken Robinson (D), but he challenged MdTA’s assertion that these delays are an annual event.
“There’s no way” inspections this disruptive happen every year, he said.
“I’d look at it as being the good, the bad and the very inconvenient. I’ve been concerned about the state of the bridge since last year’s earthquake. On that day, the bridge seemed to be reopened the day of the earthquake after a very brief inspection. This process they’re embarking on will alleviate these concerns. It’s bad because it shows the need for the bridge to be replaced. One lane connecting Maryland and Virginia is inadequate and potentially dangerous,” Robinson said.
If U.S. 301 were being used by people fleeing Washington, D.C., during a catastrophe, traffic would back up at the bridge, he surmised. For this reason, a new, wider Potomac River bridge would benefit national security.
Less dramatically, residents of Newburg and surrounding towns have been delayed getting home by prior bridge backups. Last year, county government and the Charles County Sheriff’s Office unveiled a program to direct locals home on side roads to avoid the line, a plan Robinson said he would make sure was put in place during the closures if necessary.
On an average day in 2011, vehicles made 18,021 trips across the bridge, Sales wrote.
Most of Chaney Enterprise’s sites, a Waldorf concrete company, are in Maryland and won’t be affected by the bridge, spokeswoman Sherry Santana said. But the company does have three Virginia concrete plants, including one in King George, where drivers might endure delays.
“The bridge issues could affect that delivery, so we’ll just have to do some extra planning if that’s the case,” Santana said.
Also, trucks more than 11 feet wide will not be allowed to cross the bridge without an escort, the news release states. Drivers can make an appointment by calling 301-259-4444 between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. Monday through Thursday, at least 24 hours before reaching the bridge. The policy is in place year-round, Sales wrote, because of the narrowness of the bridge.
Few truckers are affected by the restriction because only an oversize load would be 11 feet wide. Ordinary tractor-trailers could drive right through, said Louis Campion, president of the Maryland Motor Truck Association in Baltimore.
“It’s really a nominal impact,” Campion said.