Although the official start of summer is June 21 and people are planning their beach getaways, not everyone is in a sunny mood.
Summer signals myriad problems for Severna Park and Broadneck residents who find their community roads clogged with travelers. The problem stems from two areas: summer beach traffic and backups from Sandy Point State Park.
An estimated 340,000 vehicles crossed the bay bridge on Memorial Day weekend alone, and Governor Larry Hogan has said that 2040 daily backups in the eastbound direction could extend up to 13 miles during the summer months and westbound backups could extend up to 14 miles.
After hearing from distressed residents of Skidmore, Whitehall and other communities in 2016, Pat Lynch confronted the problem.
“The cars were piling up on College Parkway and blocking the Cape St. Claire entrance,” Lynch said. “People couldn’t get into their communities. One day, just to go over Oceanic Drive, it took me almost one hour.”
As president of Broadneck Council of Communities and vice president of both Growth Action Network and the Bay Bridge Reconstruction Advisory Group, Lynch has been meeting with police officers, state officials and politicians to find a solution.
Some progress has been made. Four the fourth year, the Anne Arundel County Police Department (AACOPD) will supply officers to assist with traffic congestion on the Broadneck peninsula during the summer even though the county is not responsible for state roads or state parks. AACOPD typically provides officers on Saturdays, Sundays and for the three major holidays, according to Acting Captain Fred Crosse of AACOPD’s Eastern District.
“We quickly realized the traffic was not only causing quality-of-life issues with extended commutes and an influx of non-local traffic on smaller roads, but we also saw an inability to get emergency vehicles to the residents who may need them, which caused potential life-threatening safety concerns,” Crosse said.
Still, it’s a temporary solution. “We have continuously worked with our state partners to address some of the concerns, but did not feel we could afford to allow the problem to go unaddressed until the remedies are able to be realized,” Crosse said.
AACOPD is paying overtime for its officers to address a problem that falls under jurisdiction of the state. Sergeant DaVaughn Parker, a spokesman for the Maryland State Police, said additional state troopers are also on patrol during the summer, with overtime assignments being funded by highway safety grants from the Maryland Department of Transportation Highway Safety Office. But the department declined to comment on how many extra officers are assigned to patrol traffic near Route 50 and the Broadneck peninsula.
For its part, the Department of Natural Resources has made some concessions at Sandy Point State Park: increasing the number of seasonal contact station workers from five to eight, and designating a third entry lane for cash only.
“It seems to have really helped with the flow,” said Dorna Cooper, park manager for Sandy Point.
More should be done, said Lynch, who suggested DNR complete a traffic study and charge by car instead of by visitor. “DNR has refused to participate in fixing any traffic problems outside of the park,” Lynch said.
Asked about the suggestion of charging per car, Cooper said, “It was discussed and it was determined it would not make the entry time that much quicker. [The changes] have been doing really well, with the one exception being the Fourth of July. Other than that, the traffic has mostly come from people taking side roads to get around the bay bridge traffic.”
When it comes to bridge traffic, Anne Arundel is at odds with Kent Island. The westbound bridge is designed to allow two-way, contra-flow operations, so a decision to alleviate traffic for one side means possible traffic for the other side.
“They have to send a truck out with cones to direct traffic for contra-flow,” Lynch said. “One time, traffic was backed up beyond Route 2 because they didn’t send trucks to remove the cones.”
While the Maryland Transportation Authority is studying 14 potential sites for a new bay bridge crossing, construction is years away because the state must first decide on a location, fund the project and create the design. Any outcome could potentially make the traffic worse for Anne Arundel County if a third span of the bridge is placed near the other two.
Senator Ed Reilly and Delegate Michael Malone both represent District 33 and cross-filed unsuccessful legislation to give Anne Arundel County veto power whenever that decision is made. Nine Eastern Shore counties already possess that power to prohibit construction of any toll road, toll highway or toll bridge if the majority of the counties agree.
Former District 5 councilman Dick Ladd said the clock is ticking and Maryland must make a decision soon.
“The backbone of the system doesn’t have enough capacity and the backbone of the system is the state roads,” he said. “Now you have the four lanes eastbound across the Severn River. It eases up the congestion some, but then it backs up traffic on Route 2.”
With no immediate solution to the traffic problem in sight for Broadneck and Severna Park residents, Crosse recommends that drivers be patient and avoid using local service roads if traveling across the bay bridge.
“As the traffic starts to back up, it takes time to implement the traffic plans we have in place,” Crosse said. “We also have a number of officers directing traffic and safety is our most important goal. Please be aware of our officers and drive slowly through the traffic direction.”