OCEAN CITY — Motorists traveling through midtown for the next few months should plan on getting accustomed to one unpleasant traffic term in particular: bottlenecking.
Public Works Director Hal Adkins said this week that Coastal Highway would be limited to one lane (the extreme left lane for northbound traffic) gradually from 59th to 65th streets for almost three months starting approximately Jan. 10 in order for contractors to repair the town’s primary 48-inch sewer intake valve that lies beneath 64th Street. The southbound lanes will be largely unaffected by the project.
Adkins told the Mayor and City Council in late October that parts of the pipe, which is the conduit for all of the city’s sewage to reach the town’s wastewater treatment plant on 64th Street, are starting to decay and could fail if not attended to. In preparation for this project, the town had budgeted $600,000 to essentially repair 1,000 lineal feet of the sewer line that lies 25 feet below the town’s main traffic artery.
Adkins told the council that the job must be done in January when wastewater flows are at their lowest point annually. During the summer months, Ocean City’s wastewater flow reaches 14 million gallons per day, but in January, flows reach only approximately 2.5 million gallons a day or 2,500 gallons per minute.
On Monday night, the Mayor and City Council awarded the project via unanimous vote for the sum of $561,455 to a Virginia-based company. Coupled with the engineering and design costs, the apparent low bid does push the project slightly over the aforementioned $600,000 budget, but Adkins said, “I will find the funds to make the difference up, so the project is going to happen because we have to get this done now.”
As for the traffic concerns that are looming in the not so distant future, Adkins said that he envisions two possible scenarios for mid-town motorists, but noted that the contracted firm will inevitably choose the final strategy.
“We have one influent pipe to the wastewater treatment plant and that’s what we need to fix, so we have to bypass all of the town’s sewage and get it back to the wastewater treatment plant of 64th Street without using the main pipe,” said Adkins. “I envision them running hoses from the manholes on 63rd and 65th streets as well as the ocean block and converging them to 64th Street, then essentially digging a hole across Coastal Highway and burying those bypass lines while they do the job to the main sewer pipe below.”
Back in October, Adkins told the council that the plan was to run the bypass lines on top of Coastal Highway, protected by a makeshift ramp system for cars to travel over the town’s sewer flows. However, the Maryland State Highway Administration put the kibosh on that idea, informing Adkins that any bypass lines would have to be buried and run across the street.
The other intangible in this inevitable bottlenecking situation is the fact that the job will essentially be at the intersection of Coastal Highway and the Route 90 bridge.
“Northbound traffic emptying off of the Route 90 bridge would be turning into that extreme left lane and traffic is going to be very slow there and congested until at least 65th Street and then it will open back up again,” said Adkins. “Once motorists hit 58th Street, the cones are just going to start bumping them farther and farther to the left.”
The other traffic detour of note is for residents who live on the ocean block of 64th Street, as they will have to use the alleyway to get to 63rd or 65th streets to access Coastal Highway.
Adkins said that the main 48-inch pipe is made of reinforced concrete and has been in service since 1969, but noted that similar to the recent Route 90 bridge replacement, the town’s primary sewer pipe is showing signs of decay. During an inspection in January of 2008, it was discovered that the pipe had a “substantial amount of concrete spawling, joint cracks and exposed rebar.”
“It’s going to be a bit of a headache, but it’s one of those projects that we can’t ignore and we need to have it done, tested, and ready to roll by April 1,” noted Adkins.