Downtown Group Backs Rehabbing Route 50 Bridge

OCEAN CITY – Alternatives regarding the future of the Route 50 Bridge were presented at a public hearing last week, as several people weighed in on the potential bridge options. The Ocean City Development Corporation (OCDC) took an official stance on the matter this week, choosing to back the rehabilitation alternative.

Discussions regarding the ultimate future of the Harry Kelley Memorial Bridge have been ongoing since October 2004, when studies were initiated. Preliminarily, seven alternatives were put to task, but only four, alternatives two, four and five, plus alternative one, the no-build alternative, have been carried forward for detailed study.

Alternative one, also known as the no build alternative, calls for no major improvements to the bridge, however minor short-term improvements would occur with routine maintenance.

Alternative two, rehabilitation, includes the rehabilitation of the existing structure, a separate fishing pier and wider sidewalks for pedestrians and bicyclists on the existing bridge and aesthetic improvements. With this alternative, no private property would have to be acquired and is deemed to have little direct environmental impact.

Alternative four calls for a fixed span bridge and would include a new parallel bridge beginning slightly west of the existing span and connecting to Philadelphia and Baltimore avenues in Ocean City via a series of ramps. The proposed bridge would be a high-level fixed span with four lanes carrying in-bound and out-bound traffic. The existing bridge would be retained and possibly used for pedestrians, bicyclists and fishermen.

This alternative would not only result in traffic and parking changes, but would also have the greatest impact on residential and commercial properties. Eleven homes and 14 businesses would likely be acquired.

Alternative five calls for the construction of either a south or north parallel bridge.

The south parallel bridge would stand just south of Route 50 and tie back into Division Street. The bridge would have a higher draw span and would carry both in–bound and out-bound traffic on four lanes, with the higher draw span aiming to reduce the number of bridge openings. Like alternative four, the existing bridge would be retained for pedestrians, bicyclists and fishermen.  Six homes and four businesses would potentially be displaced.

The north parallel bridge alternative would mirror the south parallel bridge alternative, but would stand north of Route 50 and would tie back into Division Street.

OCDC, a non-profit organization that was founded with the aim of benefiting the downtown area of the resort town, weighed in on the issue this week, considering all the options at a meeting of the Board of Directors Wednesday night.

“Last night the OCDC Board did vote to recommend alternative number two as the best alternative for the Route 50 Bridge and for downtown Ocean City,” said OCDC Executive Director Glenn Irwin yesterday. “This is the same alternative that we recommended two years ago, in 2006, but there were more alternatives available back then.”

A letter was drafted and sent to the Maryland Department of Transportation’s State Highway Administration from the OCDC, outlining its decision as well as reasons behind the conclusion.

“Our recommendation is based on a number of items, but particularly the large costs and displacement issues related to the construction of a new bridge,” reads the letter. “The separate fishing pier for fishermen, wider sidewalks for pedestrians and bicyclists, and overall aesthetic improvements for the existing bridge as proposed in alternative two will be substantial improvements for Ocean City’s Gateway feature.”

Irwin explained yesterday that after reviewing the alternatives, rehabilitation made the most sense for downtown Ocean City.

“Option one, which was to do nothing, we didn’t really think would help. The bridge does need some work,” said Irwin.

As for the other alternatives, which call for the construction of a new bridge, Irwin explained that the OCDC simply did not see them as feasible.

“We just thought the new bridge would result in displacement and much hirer costs,” he said.

Traffic concerns and the affect of the drawbridge have been associated with bridge considerations, with many blaming traffic back-ups in the summer time on the drawbridge.

“I think a lot of the traffic is created on the mainland and probably backs up on the bridge,” said Irwin, noting that traffic is unfortunately an unavoidable feature of the resort town that would likely not be fixed with the construction of a new bridge.

“As for questions about the drawbridge, the drawbridge presents some character and some ambience.”