- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 6, 2001

BALTIMORE (AP) Commuters from the Eastern Shore are facing a four-year overhaul of the Bay Bridge that will begin in the next few weeks.
The $45 million project will replace the concrete and steel decking of the westbound span of the bridge over the Chesapeake Bay. It is the first such renovation for the three-lane westbound span since it was completed in 1973.
The work will be done with as little disruption as possible to drivers, said Keith A. Duerling, engineering director for the Maryland Transportation Authority.
Last year more than 23 million vehicles used both spans of the 4.3-mile bridge, officially called the William Preston Lane Jr. Memorial Bridge. Those motorists included commuters, truckers and vacationers.
Meanwhile, a five-year, $76-million cleaning and painting project is continuing on the bridge's two-lane eastbound span. That work should not affect traffic.
The first phase of the renovation, to be completed in two years, includes overhauling about two miles on both ends of the westbound span. A second phase will focus on a 1.8-mile section including the highest portion of the 186-foot-high bridge.
"It all sounds like a nightmare to me," said Marie Freeman, who four days a week makes a 50- to 90-minute commute from her home in Denton to her job in the state comptroller's office in Annapolis.
State officials said they have a lane-closure schedule that should eliminate serious backups, at least for most of the year. They devised the schedule using a detailed study of traffic patterns on the bridge.
Besides daily commutes, officials also have to manage hundreds of thousands of motorists who use the bridge every weekend during summer tourist season.
Officials said from a week before Memorial Day until a week after Labor Day, contractors cannot close any of the three lanes on weekends. They will be restricted to working weeknights between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m.
From Oct. 15 through April 15, however, one lane will be closed, and contractors will be allowed to close two lanes between the evening rush hour and 6 a.m. On holidays, even during the winter, all lanes will be open, officials said.
There likely will be delays, though, on weekends in October and April when warm weather attracts visitors to the Eastern Shore while construction is going on.
Engineers said they have no plans to close the entire three-lane westbound span at any time during the project.

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