GRASONVILLE, Md. — Authorities in Kent Island, Maryland are warning of the possibility that they may take extreme measures more often than in the past to stop beach travelers from gridlocking local roads this summer.
There are contingency plans in place to shut down ramps off Route 50 approaching the Bay Bridge to keep local roads clear for first responders when gridlock on local roads results in a public safety emergency.
Those plans have been invoked on rare occasions in the past, but are likely to be used more often this season, according to Queen Anne's County Board of Commissioners At-Large member Jim Moran.
"I envision that they're going to be doing that more this year," Moran said.
Moran and Kent Island Volunteer Fire Department President Jody Schulz cited a 13-mile backup that occurred Sunday, May 23, before the traditional beginning of the summer season on Memorial Day weekend.
"We're just now starting the summer so it's going to be a crap show this summer," Schultz said.
The leaders blame navigation apps like WAZE for compounding the gridlock caused when frustrated travelers jammed in traffic waiting to cross the Bay Bridge exit onto local side roads. At that point, even emergency vehicles are unable to get through on local roads like Route 18, because of a lack of shoulders, according to Schultz.
Response times in emergencies triple on busy Sundays, according to Queen Anne's County Director of Emergency Services Scott Haas.
In some cases, it has taken up to an hour and a half to deliver patients to one of the hospitals serving the area, Haas said.
Ambulance crews attempting to return to stations during traffic gridlock find their way blocked, leaving parts of Queen Anne's County with no nearby emergency responders, according to Haas.
Ten additional sheriff's deputies are on duty during high traffic periods to deal with traffic and an increase was approved in the county's overtime budget for law enforcement for this summer, according to Moran.
Currently, deputies from the Queen Anne's Sheriff's Department along with Maryland Transportation Authority Police and Maryland State Police post themselves on key exit ramps in order to keep shoulders clear on US 50 for emergency response, Haas said.
Schulz is among those who blame traffic apps for making the issue worse.
"The problem is that everybody gets off the main road, and they think it's some secret shortcut to get to the bridge because of WAZE or some of these apps that tell them, 'hey, get off here and it sneaks you through some neighborhood', Schulz said. "But you really are not saving any time and you're better off just staying on Route 50 and just endure the slow process."
Queen Anne's County leaders say the ultimate solution rests with an expansion of the Bay Bridge.
"We didn't have these kinds of backups five and six years ago," Moran said. "My biggest fear is with a replacement bridge not coming for another six to 10 years at the earliest, what's it going to look like in 10 years from now? It's going to be horrific."