Experts panel urges improvements at toll authority
The experts’ panel assembled after last August’s crash in which a truck plunged through a barrier wall and off the Bay Bridge turned in its report to the board of the Maryland Transportation Authority Wednesday, and it appears the agency has received a relatively clean bill of health.
Among other things, the panel recommended that the authority beef up its procedures for inspecting the state’s toll bridges and tunnels and open the process to more scrutiny from the public. But the panel, made up of seven top transportation engineers from around the country, rejected contentions that the authority should commission an independent inspection of the Bay Bridge. It found that reforms adopted in recent years rotate inspections among different teams, ensuring that different sets of eyes view any problems on the structure.
The panel was set up by Gov. Martin O’Malley after a fatal tractor-trailer crash on the Bay Bridge led to the discovery Aug. 10 that the metal devices that hold in place the Jersey barriers that make up the eastbound span’s wall had been weakened by corrosion. That finding led to weeks of lane-closings and traffic backups as work crews made emergency repairs.
In its report, the peer review panel made no findings of serious lapses by the authority.
"They’ve been doing an adequate job. They meet with federal requirements but like most organizations they can improve their program," said Mary Lou Ralls, a consulting firm executive and former Texas Department of Transportation engineer who chaired the panel.
MY TAKE: This agency was desperately in need of an overhaul in 2004, when it had to redo millions of dollars worth of work on the surface of the westbound Bay Bridge. But when that bungle was exposed, then-Transportation Secretary Robert L. Flanagan set a reform process in motion that continued under his successor, John D. Porcari. The panel found many of the needed changes to the inspection process are already in the works.
If anyone wants to wade through 90 or so pages of highly technical stuff, the full report can be found here.