Transit Priorities

SNOW HILL – Before the next phase of the dualization of Route 113 is launched, the county needs to see the plans, said Worcester County Commissioner Virgil Shockley this week.

The commissioner spoke during a discussion at Tuesday’s County Commissioner meeting on transportation priorities.  The Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) has asked the county to list its transit priorities before this fall’s annual MDOT Tour visit, to be led by Transportation Secretary John Porcari.

Shockley wants the State Highway Administration (SHA), part of MDOT, to hold a public hearing on the next phase of the improvements to Route 113. He said the commissioners and the people need to see the design.

“I think that’s a lesson we all learned from down here,” said Shockley, referring to the dangerous intersection of Routes 113 and 12.

None of the commissioners have seen the design, according to Shockley.

“We need to take a look at this phase before they start pushing dirt,” Shockley said. “We haven’t seen it. We never saw the other one until it was two-thirds done.”

Shockley warned SHA over the intersection of Routes 113 and 12 during construction, saying that it was dangerous to cross over and make turns on, an allegation which was borne out by a number of accidents in the first several weeks of operation. County school bus routes were rearranged to bypass the intersection because of safety concerns.

The intersection was cleaned up over the winter, with some signs added, and visual obstructions removed, but SHA determined that the intersection does not need a stoplight to replace the blinking yellow light.

Commissioner Louise Gulyas asked staff to include the need for crosswalks on Route 50 in West Ocean City. SHA has previously refused to install crosswalk lights in the area, she said

“There are people racing back and forth across that road like you wouldn’t believe,” said Gulyas.

Comprehensive Planning Director Sandy Coyman agreed with Gulyas.

“It’s amazing the amount of bicyclists and pedestrians and baby carriages,” he said. It’s unbelievable how much pedestrian activity is out there.”

Gulyas said the problem is exacerbated during the night when traffic is heavy and the pedestrian activity increases. She also said a growing population in the area has contributed to the problem.

“You don’t even see them at night,” Gulyas said. She added, “The townhouses are filled out there. People walk to the mall.”

In other transportation issues for Worcester, Commissioner Judy Boggs asked staff to make sure the needs of Route 589 and Route 113 are differentiated. Route 113 has been given top priority while Route 589 is next in the pecking order.

“I just want them to know the significance of these projects,” Boggs said. She said that Rt. 589 is only 4.9 miles.

Coyman told her that GIS (geographic imaging system) puts that road at 4.6 miles.

“That’s even better,” said Shockley.

Continued improvements to Route 113 top the county’s priority list once again, followed by Route 589, Route 50 and the Harry Kelley Bridge, and, finally, Route 611.

Last year’s MDOT tour in October resulted in the announcement of $1 million in planning funds for the increasingly problematic Route 589 in early November. A study of future improvements to the Harry Kelley Bridge is ongoing.

Transportation concerns listed in the draft letter considered this week start with the “poor configuration” of the intersection at Routes 12 and 113, accommodation for alternatives to driving such as walking and biking, and the possible use of MDOT property in the county for grant-funded environmental enhancements.

Municipal priorities, a new request from the state, were also included in the letter.  Berlin, for example, listed five priorities: sidewalk improvements; the realignment of Harrison Avenue intersections with Main and Broad Streets.; analysis of Route 346 upgrades;  a right turn lane on west side of the Bay Street and Route 113 intersection; and a reconsideration of a traffic light at Route 113 and Germantown Rd.

Snow Hill and Pocomoke also submitted a prioritized list of improvements for SHA in the future, while the town of Ocean City deals directly with the state agency.

A new request from MDOT for second tier priorities will be sent in a few weeks. Coyman told the commissioners that he has been assured by MDOT that the second tier priorities, covering small projects, would not interfere with or slow down major priorities.

The commissioners decided against asking the Worcester County Planning Commission to consider the secondary priorities amid concerns any new project listed might wrongly indicate a change in the county’s top priorities.

“If you do, you’re going to be slowing up the process,” county chief administrator Gerry Mason warned.

The commissioners voted unanimously to send the letter with the changes suggested. “Let’s do it and get it out,” said Gulyas.