OCEAN CITY – On the condition that the old Route 50 Bridge would be removed entirely, the Ocean City Mayor and Council gave its blessing to the State Highway Administration’s (SHA) recommended plan for a new one.
Though the project has no funding and it probably won’t happen for at least another decade, City Council gave it’s blessing to the most costly and drastic plan to improve the Route 50 Bridge, which would see a 45-foot fixed span bridge go up and the existing Harry W. Kelley bridge torn down.
Jamaica Kennon of the SHA came back to City Hall on Tuesday hoping for the council’s thoughts on the best action to take on the bridge project so the state could move forward and get the project out of the conceptual stage and into the working stage in hopes that funding will become available.
What council chose was option 4, which costs approximately $400 million and will displace the most amount of residents (25) and properties (45), while altering traffic patterns and rerouting the off ramp from the bridge toward 5th Street.
Glenn Irwin of the Ocean City Development Committee (OCDC) said in an interview last month that though option 4 would create the most drastic change to the aesthetics of downtown, the change would create an entirely new business district where the existing bridge routes traffic through currently.
Mayor Rick Meehan, in a phone interview the day after the decision, stressed that it was nothing more than a blessing and people should not be overly concerned about short-term changes.
“This is just the conceptual stage of the project, said Meehan. “They (the SHA) were just asking us what we thought, and something of this scale will be a working document as time goes by.”
Councilman Joe Hall, who was adamantly opposed to the earlier decision to use bonded money to upgrade the convention center, was ironically the most vocal of the council members in his support of option 4.
“I think that it’s the best option for the community, and even though it’s probably 20 years down the line, this is the type of investment that people can get excited about,” said Hall.
Hall mirrored Irwin’s sentiments that the new route into the downtown area would open up a number of business opportunities in the downtown area and could be the catalyst for hopes for a parking garage downtown.
“I’ve seen the results in improving infrastructures like the bridge, and who knows what will happen to this plan once the engineers get a hold of it, but the explosion of rebirth in the downtown hasn’t necessitated a parking facility and maybe this bridge will,” said Hall.
Many on the council thought that leaving the current bridge, which would still have to be raised and lowered for maritime traffic despite the installation of a new bridge that would negate that need was a bad idea, and their eventual agreement with option 4 seemed to hinge upon whether the current bridge could be torn down.
“If the bridge is going to have to remain operable or in a fixed position, then what are we doing here,” queried Councilman Jim Hall. “You are going to make it higher so boats can go under it but you are going to keep the old bridge, that makes no sense.”
The current bridge has a life expectancy of 20-25 years, according to Kennon of the SHA, and she implored council to make a decision now rather than later.
“At some point, we are going to have to come back and do something,” said Kennon. “The bridge has been experiencing problems with maintaining it, and a time is going to come where that bridge becomes functionally inoperable.”
Jim Hall expressed concern with the amount of people would be displaced, and the backlash that could come once council made the decision to narrow it down to one choice.
“The public outcry will fill this room once people realize that this will impact their property so I think that if you are going to go with number 4, you at least let the people know that you are moving forward with this,” he said.
The SHA said that letters have been sent out to all residents and property owners that would be effected by these changes and said that there is a three step process to take over a property, but that is far down the line, according to Kennon.
There was also some concern from Jim Hall about what the new off ramp into town that would create an overpass onto Baltimore area would do to property values.
“I’ve got some friends in Philly that live under the E Train and it certainly brings the seedy crowd if you understand what I’m getting at,” said Hall, “and I can’t fathom what something like that would do to property values.”
Joe Hall argued that public space would be made available with the overpass for things like skate parks or other enhancements in that area.
“I’ll tell you what you are going to get: prostitutes, trolls and drug dealers,” said Jim Hall.
The vote was 5-2 to give the city’s blessing for option 4 with Jim Hall and Margaret Pillas in opposition.
“As of today, this is just a theory,” said Council President Joe Mitrecic. “It’s just a theory.”