SNOW HILL- A wider Route 589 should be more of a priority now that slot machine gambling will be installed at its southern end, county officials argued to the Maryland Department of the Transportation (MDOT) during that agency’s annual transportation plan presentation on Tuesday.
Worcester County has for years prioritized the widening of Route 113 over the widening of Route 589, a message received loud and clear by the state, said State Highway Administrator Neil Pedersen. The Route 113 dualization is the highest priority for future funding.
“Those priorities were before the state said we’re going to have slots,” said Commissioner Judy Boggs.
Commissioner Virgil Shockley agreed finishing Route 113 is a priority, but said the approval of slots at Ocean Downs earlier this month changed the equation somewhat.
“Route 113 is a priority but things just changed a little bit,” he said.
Some improvements will be made on Route 589 at the entrance to Ocean Downs to accommodate the expected influx of slot machine gamblers, such as turn lanes. The improvements should stretch to the Route 707 intersection, about a block north of the Route 50 intersection.
“It’s not just [Ocean Downs owner Bill] Rickman presenting a plan to get people out of where they just gambled. It’s everybody else,” said Shockley. “Life goes on. Just because we all of a sudden have slots there, life doesn’t stop in Worcester County.”
Boggs, who represents Ocean Pines, stressed the importance of an efficient Route 589 to the community.
“We know Route 589 is Ocean Pines’ only access to the outside world,” said Boggs. “Does the state have any money to move this forward a little more quickly?”
Like most highway improvement projects, the future is dependent on funding.
“It’s dependent on the future revenue picture and it’s dependent on priorities,” Pedersen said.
So far the state has come up with funding for a planning study on widening Route 589 to a four-lane road its entire 4.7 mile length.
“The highest priority is at the south end near Ocean Downs, particularly with slots going in at Ocean Downs,” said Pedersen.
Any improvements to Rt. 589 in the racetrack vicinity will still require motorists to merge back into a single lane highway as they travel north towards Ocean Pines, Boggs pointed out. Shockley agreed.
“It’s not just slots,” he said. “It’s people on the other side.”
The state is currently working with Rickman on improvements at the racetrack entrance, extending towards the Route 50 intersection, to handle increased traffic from slot machine gamblers, according to Pedersen. Rickman has submitted a traffic impact analysis showing his view of the impact of slots, said State Highway Administration (SHA) district engineer Donnie Drewer.
SHA is reviewing that analysis, Pedersen said, and will consider the scope of the improvements needed. The agency us also identifying slots gambling traffic impacts at the Route 90 and Route 589 junction.
Before any construction permit can be pulled for road improvements, SHA must sign off on the proposed work, following the normal access point approval process. SHA will also oversee the racetrack entrance improvements as they are made, according to Drewer, and will then sign off on the completed changes to the road before Ocean Downs can open up for slot machine gambling.
All road improvements made at the racetrack entrance to handle slot machine traffic will be paid for by track owner Rickman.
Those slots-related improvements should be finished by Memorial Day, Drewer said.
Road improvements also need to be discussed for Route 589 between Route 707 and Route 50, and at the Route 589 and Route 50 intersection, Shockley said.
The state’s Route 589 improvement concept will be revealed at the next county commissioners meeting on November 3, Pedersen said. The commissioners will also hear more about the slot machine related improvements to Route 589 at the Ocean Downs entrance during that meeting.
A stakeholders meeting will be held November 12, with a public meeting on the Route 589 improvements concept held on November 17.
Delegate Jim Mathias, attending the commissioners meeting for the MDOT presentation, said he and fellow Delegate Norm Conway had worked on legislation twice to make sure Route 589 is addressed, but that those efforts were struck from the bill both times.
“We remain absolutely committed to that roadway,” said Mathias. “It’s home to many people there. We want to make sure to keep it safe and attractive.”
Boggs reiterated her position on Route 589 was not parochial and that her colleagues agreed improvements to the highway were paramount.
“I just want to re-emphasize that all of the commissioners, not just Judy Boggs, are aware there’s a significant population that can’t get anywhere without Route 589,” Boggs said.
The year-round population of Ocean Pines, about 15,000 people, is supplemented by thousands more visitors in the summer, compounding the need for a safer, more efficient stretch of highway.
“It’s a serious concern now,” Boggs said.