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Travel times prolonged in wake of Key Bridge collapse; the solutions the state is focused on

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Posted at 6:00 AM, Jun 11, 2024

BALTIMORE — When the Francis Scott Key Bridge collapsed on March 26, so did I-695, known as Baltimore’s Beltway. The 51-mile loop is no longer connected, and it has had a major impact on traffic in the region.

Prior to the cargo ship collision, around 39,000 vehicles traveled across the bridge every day. That traffic is now clogging up the I-95/Fort McHenry and I-895/Baltimore Harbor tunnels. According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, drivers on these key diversion routes are experiencing travel times that can be 2 to 4 times longer.

“Travel times during the peak period are anywhere from 20 to 35 minutes longer,” said Bruce Gartner, Executive Director for the Maryland Transportation Authority (MDTA).

Gartner monitors these delays from the MDTA traffic operations center and sits in them himself. “I'm a daily commuter through the tunnels, so I am very aware of what the customers are going through.”

The MDTA is working to come up with traffic solutions, but the best option is years away with the Key Bridge scheduled to be rebuilt and reopened in the fall of 2028.

“Is there anything else MDTA can do to alleviate the congestion?” WMAR-2 News Mallory Sofastaii asked Gartner.
“Absolutely. We're looking at everything we can, however, it's a challenge, right? I mean, we have tunnels, so expanding lanes in a tunnel is difficult. We've done a couple of things recently. So short term things include re-channeling the traffic of the Baltimore Harbor Tunnel Northbound toll plaza. That merge point had several people jockeying for position, it was like a horse race trying to get out to the to the lead position, so we've channeled traffic to make fewer conflicts there,” Gartner responded.

And on May 20, MDTA re-opened access to Broening Highway via the I-695 turnaround.

“Exit 44 that goes from Broening Highway to I-695 to get out towards Tradepoint Atlantic and Sparrows Point open backed up, so that takes pressure off of some of the local systems and other places,” said Gartner.

As MDTA chief operating officer, Richard Jaramillo works with engineers to better accommodate the new surge in tunnel traffic. He said roughly 16,0000 more vehicles are utilizing the Fort McHenry Tunnel every day and 6,000 more through the Baltimore Harbor Tunnel.

Additional construction is planned to alleviate the bottleneck on I-895 at the mouth of the BHT by removing toll booths. Jaramillo said construction is slated to begin next year.

“The construction and all that, like we said, it will be planned for, anticipated next year. And then we will slowly roll all that out. That'll impact a lot of the interchanges and everything coming in, but it will not change the tunnel,” said Jaramillo.

Aside from construction, the MDTA is asking for a change in driver behavior and more lenient work schedules.

“We really need a team effort on this. We have to do our part, employers need to be a little bit more flexible with their employees that are particularly driving through those tunnels in those directions. And the drivers themselves, I mean, adjusting your times and looking before you go. Know before you go in terms of what incidents might be out there,” said Gartner.

He recommends checking your commute on traffic apps, making sure you have plenty of gas, and changing your travel time or route if there's an incident. The Maryland Department of Transportation also updates this information in real time on their website.

“What we need people to think about is are there alternatives out there? Can they carpool? We have pushed out messaging about commuter choice. There are ride matching services that they can check out online,” said Gartner. “There's progress being made. I know it's not fast enough for the daily commuters, but, you know, we're looking to do as much as we can, we're asking them to do what they can.”

Collisions on alternative routes are also up. The MDTA has changed patrol schedules to be able to respond to incidents faster.

And Gartner said they need to continue doing system preservation projects to properly maintain the tunnels and roadways but most construction will happen overnight. MDTA updates those road closures on their website and through GovDelivery.

As far as the bridge reconstruction, a request for proposal has gone out. The MDTA is expected to select a vendor by the end of this summer.

Click here for additional information on Key Bridge commuting resources for drivers and employers including how to find a carpool and co-working locations for remote work.