OCEAN CITY- Maryland State Highway Administration officials told the Mayor and City Council this week that it cost more than $120 million to clear the roads this past winter, and now they have very little left over to fix those same roads in the year to come.
Upon hearing the news, Mayor Rick Meehan jokingly quipped that “this could be the first year I can remember that (the SHA) wasn’t rushing to finish a major road project in the days before Memorial Day”, but the news did spark some concern that local roadways would continue to fall below par as the SHA works to replenish its project budgets.
“The SHA reported that they will not do maintenance until things improve and this will result in a little bumpier ride throughout Maryland,” said City Manager Dennis Dare. “I will also note there is no paving money in the town’s budget for our 75 miles of streets so the ride around town may be a little bumpier too.”
SHA District Engineer Donnie Drewer said that this past winter was the “most costly in recent memory” noting that this season’s snow removal costs soared past the $20 million that was earmarked for snow removal and the emergency budget allocation of $60 million, and at final tally reached over $120 million to salt and clear Maryland roadways this past season.
“Basically, the $60 million is what we thought would be the worst case scenario for a rough winter down here, and we doubled that,” said Drewer. “We need to find about $80 million by July 1, so we are here to tell you that what you will be seeing (the SHA) doing this season is purely the safety stuff to the roads.”
Unfortunately, what got a bit lost in the astonishing numbers spent on snow removal that Drewer reported were the number of roadways in the area that are either in disrepair or are most certainly headed that way.
“It’s not that we don’t want to fix the roadways, we just don’t have the money,” said Drewer. “We have a lot of things on our list that we just can’t do right now.”
Included in that list of essentially tabled SHA projects include both southbound lanes of Philadelphia Avenue between North Division and North 1st streets, which Drewer called in “severe disrepair,” as well as numerous other roadway projects in the downtown area, such as potholes, catch basins and expensive rebuilds of numerous city street lights.
Drewer estimated that when a traffic light is replaced, it must undergo a complete rebuild to get in essentially dialed in to the grid and that process costs upwards of six figures. In addition, he said that SHA is working to come up with a way to remedy what became known as an apparent flaw with the city’s LED traffic lights as snow and ice compacted on the lights during the storms this past winter.
“The lights are more efficient, but they don’t produce enough heat to melt the snow and ice, so they were getting covered,” said Drewer “But this is a problem all over the country, and I’m not sure what can be done, but I’ve heard that they are developing snow visors for the traffic lights.”
Of course, the Mayor and Council didn’t miss an opportunity to talk face to face with the SHA concerning the Route 50 bridge, and voted to have Meehan pen a letter to the Coast Guard that would encourage the opening of the drawbridge on the hour rather than the half-hour in order to reduce traffic backups on the weekends in the summer.
In addition, Councilman Jim Hall took his turn to speak quite candidly, not about the functionality of the Route 50 bridge, or it’s future, or even it’s condition. He took umbrage with the bridge’s aesthetics on Tuesday.
“Can we give that bridge a makeover, or a new bridge façade or something, because that bridge is just ugly,” said Hall. “It looks like an old public school in Baltimore City that is getting ready to be torn down. We are going to be stuck with this bridge for quite some time, so can we please do something to make it look a little nicer?”