SNOW HILL – While project planning for Route 589 improvements is ongoing, the Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) could not identify when any work could begin on the busy road, during its annual whistle-stop tour of the lower Eastern Shore counties.
MDOT staffers spent 90 minutes discussing transportation issues and plans with the Worcester County Commissioners Tuesday. Sec. John Porcari was in Washington, D.C. and did not attend the meeting.
The 2006 MDOT tour meeting proved productive when then MDOT Sec. Robert Flanagan took to heart the commissioners’ emphasis on the need for improvements to Route 589. The state announced the allotment of $1 million in planning money for those improvements a few weeks later.
After having spent years lobbying for Route 589 planning to begin, Worcester County must now let the process work.
“Project planning is underway at this stage,” said Neil Pedersen, Maryland State Highway Administrator.
In the future, MDOT planners will identify problem areas and make a priority list.
The timing of the improvements will depend on funding.
“We’re talking about fairly substantial costs,” Pedersen said.
MDOT has said in the past that work on Route 589 will not be undertaken until the improvements to Route 113 are complete.
Commissioner Louise Gulyas asked MDOT staffers to consider a cloverleaf turning system at the intersection of Routes 589 and 50.
“There are so many accidents there over the summer,” said Gulyas.
MDOT is looking into that intersection, Pedersen said, but no decision has been made on how to improve it.
Pedersen did report it could take a couple of years to complete the next stage, which would be identifying specific improvements, after the planning study is complete.
CRASH (County Residents Action for Safer Highways) Chair Bob Hulburd said hearing from the community is paramount.
“It’s critically important we have community input into that planning stage. We basically get one chance to do that and we need to do it right,” he said.
“I expect we’ll have a mix of both short-term and long-term improvements,” Pedersen said. “We’re still a number of years away from major improvements.”
The county was told last summer that under the worst-case scenario work on Route 589 would not begin until 2011.
Some are optimistic about the long-awaited changes to Route 589.
“It looks like everyone is working together on moving forward and we really appreciate that,” said Commissioner Judy Boggs, whose district is bordered by Route 589.
“I’m glad 589 is making newspapers and is on everyone’s lips,” said Joe Green, chair of STAR 589, a Route 589 activist group. “I want everyone to stand behind 589.”
Boggs praised local State Highway Administration (SHA) staff, District Engineer Donnie Drewer and Gene Cofiell, for improvements recently made at the Route 589 and Cathell Rd. intersection, which included moving the car stop line back and making the crosswalks more visible.
SHA has also promised to put up green pedestrian walking signs, Boggs said.
“We’re also concerned about the bicycle safety. That’s a big issue,” said Boggs.
Ocean Pines Police Chief Dave Massey has agreed to offer a bicycle safety class for locals, she said.
A few others at the meeting were a bit less positive. Senator Lowell Stoltzfus expressed some concern that Route 589 will have to wait years for solutions.
“It is something of a political thing. It’s a money thing,” he said. “There’s a huge deficit.”