SNOW HILL- Plans to expand Route 589 reached the next stage of their journey after Corridor Vision Plan was presented to and approved by the Worcester County Commission on Tuesday.
Tuesday’s approval comes nearly a year after a Corridor Feasibility Study was proposed for Route 589 in November 2009. The project was planned in an attempt to alleviate traffic concerns on Racetrack Road, especially any possible increase in activity due to slots coming to the area. The Maryland State Highway Administration (SHA) was in charge of conducting the feasibility study and will be making all of the eventual expansions.
At Tuesday’s County Commissioners meeting, SHA officials presented both short-term and long-term improvement possibilities. The short-term projections, which have been given a 2015 time frame, include the addition of turn lanes, additional travel lanes in select areas, and pedestrian/bicycle safety improvements. Long-term goals, given a 2030 time frame, include a new interchange at Routes 589 and 50 and capacity improvements along the entire route.
The pedestrian/cyclist improvements especially elicited interest. Commissioner Judy Boggs asked SHA representatives if their plan to separate Route 589 with a natural median and to provide hiking/biking trails would extend the entire length of the route. SHA confirmed that it would. Illustrations of planned improvements were displayed. While all were in the preliminary stages and subject to extensive revision, a few questions were raised.
For example, Boggs wanted to know if the segment changes would be beneficial for those who own property along the route.
“Are these improvements going to provide interconnectivity between businesses?” she asked.
While it was too early in the planning stages for SHA officials to give Boggs a detailed answer, they assured her that established businesses along Route 589 were a major concern and they would look into it as the project developed.
A list of four possible concepts for the Route 589 and Route 50 interchange reinforced the state’s claim, as the one of the reasons listed against Concept 1 include the chance that it could effect a “potentially historic farm south of U.S. 50.”
Another issue brought up was how SHA planned on handling the ecologically fragile area around Turville Creek. As it stands, the SHA has decided extra evaluation is necessary before any plans can be made.
A question was raised about the eventual number of traffic lights along the 4.7-mile stretch of highway. Currently, there are six stoplights along the route. With the proposed additions of turning/traveling lanes and other attempts to manage capacity, Boggs asked if extra lights would be added. After an examination of slides of road segments, SHA representatives stated that there was the potential for another three or four lights to be added.
“So there’s the potential that this 4.7-mile stretch of road might have nine or ten stoplights?” asked Boggs.
The issue was one of many during the SHA presentation that invited discussion between the commissioners. While it never became heated or particularly distracted, Commissioner Linda Busick reminded everyone at one point that the project was in it’s infancy.
“Things aren’t going to happen this year or next year,” said Busick. “This is in the distant future.”
Commission President Bud Church asked if Route 589 was SHA’s main concern at the moment.
“What are you looking to do first,” asked Church. “Route 589 or the Route 50 bridge?”
Since both efforts are in the early planning stages, it was difficult to give an exact answer. More discussion ensued but the consensus was that Route 589 was the currently the focus.
Boggs, who was the most vocal during the presentation, took a moment to congratulate the SHA.
“We wanted to dispel angst that building owners along 589 might feel and you’ve done just that,” she said.
After a long presentation, a mild hitch at the end came when the exact wording of the motion made to continue with the Route 589 project was called into question. The first motion was deemed incorrect and had to be rescinded. After a few minutes of dialogue, a new motion was proposed and unanimously approved.
While even the short-term improvements have several years on their time line, the next steps for the venture were mentioned. In November, SHA is hoping for a letter of understanding between itself and Worcester County and will be holding a Stakeholders’ Group Meeting. It will make a presentation at a Board of Education Meeting in December.