SNOW HILL – A new, lower version of one design for a new Route 50 bridge would be the same height as the current bridge and have the same environmental and neighborhood impacts, the County Commissioners heard Tuesday.
The Maryland State Highway Administration (SHA) appeared before the commissioners at their regular meeting this week to present the modified design, which the commissioners had requested in the fall.
The new design, designated 5C, is the same design as 5A, but instead of a 30-foot high draw span, would have an 18-foot high draw span.
“The difference is really the height itself,” said SHA engineer Scott Holcomb. “The footprint is the same.”
“The cost will be the same for the two alternatives,” said project manager Jamaica Kennon.
About 75 percent of boats would fit under the 30-foot bridge, she said.
“It’s a substantial boating improvement,” said Kennon, who noted that the Coast Guard might not approve the lower span.
Commissioner Virgil Shockley asked SHA staff to outline the benefits and differences of the 18-foot vs. 30-foot bridge designs.
The 30-foot high draw span would need to be opened for boat traffic less often, SHA District Engineer Donnie Drewer said.
The only time the current draw span gets a lot of boat traffic is during the White Marlin Open, said Commissioner Louise Gulyas.
The 5A option would have a lower profile than Alternative 4 and less impact on existing businesses and homes, according to SHA.
SHA staff also showed a three-dimensional computer visualization of what the remaining alternatives would look like to a driver.
The visualization for alternative 4, which would have the heaviest impact on the town at 45 feet high with several long ramps, elicited some comment.
“It doesn’t look like a fishing village anymore, does it?” said Gulyas.
Commissioner Judy Boggs said, “It could be any city, USA.”
Option 5B, which was requested by the Ocean City Public Works Department to see if that would have less impacts, also would involve several long ramps and a 45-foot bridge and would not reduce impacts, SHA staff said.
Seeing the 3-D presentation shows how large the impact would be on existing downtown buildings, Boggs said.
“Seeing it like this makes it much clearer, what might or might not happen,” said Boggs.
County Commission President Bud Church said this new bridge has been studied for years, asking when would construction begin.
“We’ve been working on this a long, long time. A large amount of money’s been spent,” said Church. “Those are really important items.”
The Rt. 50 Bridge will not need to be replaced for 25 to 35 years. The bridge replacement is not yet funded for design or construction, said Kennon.
“Hopefully, we’ll have something in place by the time we actually need it,” said Donnie Drewer.
Maintaining the existing bridge until the new one is built is a priority, Drewer said.
No decisions were made Tuesday. The meeting was simply to update elected officials and present the visualization, Kennon said. The ultimate decision will be made by the SHA.
“The county and Ocean City select alternatives, and then SHA says thanks for your time, we’ll do what we want,” said Church.
If the county and city agree on an alternative, the state will likely select that one, Kennon said.
“What our administrator is trying to do is get some consensus,” said Drewer.
SHA will meet with Ocean City later this spring. The state will then hold another public information meeting on June 3, featuring all alternatives and computer visualizations.
SHA staff will bring the results of that public meeting to the County Commissioners this summer.