Rough Times Ahead On Local Roadways

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The State Highway Administration (SHA) has confirmed it once again – it will do what it wants, and local authorities, residents, businesses and visitors will just have to put up with it.

That much is clear. That’s why it’s important for people to understand their angst over road closures and associated impediments should not necessarily be directed at local elected officials. While we are certainly not interested in defending the Ocean City Mayor and Council, it’s important for citizens to know the decision makers here are employed by the state. It’s the appointed bureaucrats making the calls and they seemingly care little about the public’s discontent or anxiety over their decisions.

The latest two examples are the ongoing repaving project wreaking havoc in Ocean City on Coastal Highway and the potential closure of the Route 50 bridge for 35 days starting in January. These projects have a lot in common including the facts they are expensive, will inconvenience thousands of people and cost businesses lots of money. Most importantly they are needed to keep safety at its highest and to make sure serious problems do not occur at other more critical times of year, according to SHA officials.

While we understand the work is being done because there is a documented need, it’s still difficult to understand why there was only one lane of traffic open on northbound Coastal Highway at times last week. Despite comments promising there would be a minimum of two lanes open for motorists at all times, it was only the bus lane that could be used, meaning motorists had to deal with slow traffic, elevated storm drains and manhole covers and a bus making repeated stops.

There are sure to be other problems when the Route 50 bridge is shut down in January, if the project’s funds are approved. West Ocean City businesses, from convenience stores and retail outlets to hotels and restaurants, will be impacted by this closure, whether it’s in January of 2008 or January of 2009. The same can be said for Ocean City businesses in the southern third of town.

What’s most difficult about the entire situation is the lack of accountability and the fact the community is powerless. We just have to cope with whatever comes our way from these projects. Local elected officials have no say, and even when they do have an opportunity to speak out like at this week’s Ocean City Mayor and Council meeting, most don’t say what needs to be said, particularly in the manner it should be relayed. Perhaps it’s because they understand above all what they think or say does not matter. Maybe they know it’s best not to fret over uncontrollable things.

All that being said, public safety is critical, of course, and should be the No. 1 priority. There’s never a good time to close a bridge or reduce eight lanes of traffic to two, but there could be some improved communication between the state agency making the decisions and the local officials who will be criticized tremendously as a result. Or, at the minimum, some kind of regard for impact their decisions have on the true stakeholders in the big picture.

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