- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 27, 2008

BALTIMORE | Repair work will begin immediately to reinforce a Chesapeake Bay Bridge barrier wall that a tractor-trailer careened over during a deadly accident earlier this month, and significant delays are expected during the next two to three weeks, state officials said Tuesday.

Inspections of the barrier wall - using ground-penetrating radar and other techniques - found corrosion of steel reinforcement inside the barrier sections, something not visible during routine inspections, said Geoffrey Kolberg, the chief engineer for the Maryland Transportation Authority.

John Porcari, chairman of the authority, said a review found the bridge was safe for motorists but the repairs were being done to enhance the structure’s safety. Other repairs would be made if needed, he said.

“Look at this as a beginning, not an end to the process,” Mr. Porcari said.

Police have said the Aug. 10 accident occurred when a Camaro sideswiped the truck, which then crossed over the opposite lane and struck the jersey wall. The truck’s cab rode up on top of the barrier before the trailer struck the wall, causing it to break and rolling the truck off the bridge into the Bay.

L-shaped steel brackets will be attached to the concrete barriers to more securely anchor them to the bridge deck and guard rails will be installed along 2,300 feet of the right side of the eastbound span near where the accident occurred, authority spokeswoman Kelly Melhem said.

Maryland Department of Transportation spokesman Jack Cahalan said repairs to that section are expected to take two to three weeks, and if other sections of the barrier are found to need repair, the process could take up to 10 weeks.

The speed limit on the eastbound span of the bridge is being lowered from 50 mph to 40 mph.

When asked whether the barriers could withstand a similar accident, Mr. Kolberg said the “parapets are not designed for tractor-trailers.”

Banning tractor-trailers from the bridge was not an option, he said. However, the transportation authority announced later Tuesday that during the lane closure, trucks wider than 12 feet will be prohibited from using the eastbound span.

Mr. Kolberg said the truck knocked about 8 feet of the jersey wall into the water on its way down. The driver, John Short, 57, of Willard, was killed.

Marcus Brown, chief of the Maryland Transportation Authority Police, said investigators are still awaiting the results of toxicology tests to determine whether the driver of the Camaro was under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

Mr. Kolberg wouldn’t speculate about whether corrosion contributed to the accident, saying that part of the investigation has not been completed. However, he said about 20 percent of the bridge has been inspected and authority officials are “confident that we are starting in the right place.”

The round-the-clock repair work is expected to cost about $3 million.

The repairs are not being done on the westbound span, which has a steel barrier system, Mr. Kolberg said.

The engineer said higher barriers were a possibility, but engineers have to consider the additional weight and how it would affect the bridge during a crash.

While repairs are under way, Mr. Porcari urged motorists to use alternate routes or travel during off-peak times. The transportation authority recommended drivers heading from the Baltimore area to Ocean City take Interstate 95 north to Route 1 and travel south through Delaware.

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