Out and About (Sort of): Route 50 Imposes Severe Restraints by Howard Freedlander

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A letter to the editor of The Baltimore Sun, dated Aug. 25, 2016 and entitled “Prisoners of Kent Island,” really struck a raw nerve for me. And I suspect for many others who live in Queen Anne’s and Talbot counties and must cope with the traffic-ridden lanes of Route 50, not just during the summer beach season but year-round.

Dorotheann S. Sandusky, a Chester resident on Kent Island, wrote about the onslaught of motorists:

“Its impact, which was once only during the beach season, is now a year-round issue resulting in what can only be compared to a mandated sentence of home-arrest for Kent Islanders. In effect, citizens of this wonderful island are relegated to their communities not only because of the amount of traffic on Route 50, but travelers’ ability to use their GPS systems to find back roads and alternate routes, all of this leading to gridlock. Going any direction for church, groceries, pharmacy and to Annapolis is more than a challenge and requires vacation-like planning.”

Ms. Sandusky is absolutely right. Kent Islanders face a miserable existence, particularly during the summer beach season. In many ways, Kent Island residents submit without recourse to the impatient, vacation-hungry motorists who care little about the beleaguered residents of this spit of land.

Why should they? They occupy the island for only as long as it takes to cross the Kent Narrows Bridge and visualize the sandy beaches of Ocean City, MD or Rehoboth Beach, DE.

I feel for the Kent Islanders. I really do. Though the traffic mess is not as bad on the Talbot County stretch of Route 50, I too feel imprisoned to some degree. With two daughters and families, including four grandchildren in Annapolis, the back-up caused by the constant caravan of cars crossing Bay Bridge from late May until early September is a gnawing irritant.

I spend a lot of time trying to “game” the Bay Bridge. The past two Saturdays, my wife and I crossed the bridge for family gatherings. There was no problem going west on a late Saturday morning. I can’t say the same for returning Saturday afternoon. On one of the Saturdays, the back-up was notable. My patience was limited.

Ms. Sandusky alludes to another reality that I’ve experienced during the past 10 years. Traffic has increased going eastward over the Bay Bridge throughout the year, as more and more people commute from the Shore to jobs in Annapolis, Bowie, Washington, DC and Baltimore, and folks with second homes on the Eastern Shore flock to their abodes throughout the year.

The problem with writing a column about this subject is suggesting a solution. That becomes even more complicated for me, because I am on record for recommending a third span across the Chesapeake Bay—to handle the increasing traffic!

Ms. Sandusky’s letter compels me to think about the impact of more and more motorists happily leaving the potentially expanded Bay Bridge and traveling across Kent Island, oblivious to the impact on residents of Stevensville, Chester and Grasonville.

What, if anything, can public officials in Annapolis do for Kent Islanders feeling under “home-arrest” as Route 50 and the roads in their communities are invaded by well-meaning people seeking to enjoy the Eastern Shore?

I was interested to read Ms. Sandusky’s complaint about the lowering of Bay Bridge tolls, an action she believes reduced funding for “long overdue road improvements for our community.”

Understanding little about traffic engineering, I wonder what improvements would be helpful. More overpasses? Better service roads on either side of Route 50? Maybe a locals-only use of Route 50 and the Bay Bridge for a few hours on each weekend during the summer rush to reach the beach?

Of course, I realize the last idea is completely ridiculous. Do Kent Islanders and those of us in Talbot County simply suck it up and suffer the angst of aggravating back-ups, or just stay in our homes and curse the vacationers?

Ms. Sandusky asked at the end of her letter: “When can we expect to be released from this captivity?”

Can anybody out there answer that question? I’m stumped.

Columnist Howard Freedlander retired in 2011 as Deputy State Treasurer of the State of Maryland.  Previously, he was the executive officer of the Maryland National Guard. He  also served as community editor for Chesapeake Publishing, lastly at the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer.  In retirement, Howard serves on the boards of several non-profits on the Eastern Shore, Annapolis and Philadelphia.

 

Letters to Editor

  1. Howard McCoy says:

    This may be small beans but maybe it’s a start. My wife and I have noticed the inordinately long time we have to wait at the Rt. 213/Rt. 50 stop light on weekends. The light is being held for much too short a period for us locals wanting to proceed onto Rt. 50 from Rt. 213, and is being held much too long for the beach commuters on Rt. 50. This situation is probably the same at other stop lights along Rt. 404 and Rt. 50. I believe the change cycle should be equal for both sides. The beach traffic should have to stop and wait as often and for just as long as we locals do. Catering to the huge amount of traffic on Rt. 50 doesn’t make sense. Let’s level the playing field, as it were, and maybe — just maybe — a few of those folks hell-bent on hitting the beaches might decide to stay home instead, if they know they don’t have the green lights in their favor.

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