Friday, October 24–Without Slots, State Says 589 Dualization Will Wait

SNOW HILL – The dualization of Route 113 will continue with the current and next phase of the long-awaited work, but Route 589 will have to wait unless slots come to Ocean Downs, elected officials heard this week.

Route 113 was one of the few projects that escaped state cuts in the capital projects program, according to Neil Pedersen, Administrator of the State Highway Administration.

Phase IIA of the Route 113 dualization is underway south of Berlin. This $22.5 million phase will widen the 2.5 miles of highway between Hayes Landing Rd. and Goody Hill Rd.

“Construction is about 15 percent complete. We’re projecting construction should be complete and the project open to traffic by fall 2009,” said Pedersen.

The next section of road to be dualized in Phase IIB of the project will stretch from Goody Hill Rd. to Massey Branch, a 1.8-mile piece. This section is already funded, Pedersen said, and will cost $22.3 million. Requests for bids have been sent out, and a notice to proceed with the work could be issued as early as spring of 2009. Construction could begin in late 2009.

The last three phases, between Massey Branch and Public Landing Rd., and the construction of an interchange at Route 113 and Route 12, are unfunded.

Overall, the three phases will cost about $121 million. Some engineering work on the remaining road to be dualized is underway, and the interchange is in the environmental approval stage, Pedersen said.

“Route 113 is a priority. It will remain a priority ‘til it is finished,” said Worcester County Commission President Virgil Shockley.

“113 has always meant a lot to me,” said Del. Page Elmore (R-38A), who lost one of his best friends as a teenager on that highway. “113 has been a priority for a long time. So many people would be alive today if we had that dualed.”

“I do feel very, very strongly that 113’s completion as a dual is primary,” said Del. Norm Conway (D-38b).

Bob Hulburd, president of CRASH (County Residents Action for Safer Highways), which was instrumental in getting the state to begin and continue dualizing Route 113, asked the state to consider putting improvements to older roads above construction of new ones.

 “Please make the dualization of 113 a priority. Please consider safety first,” he said.

That the next phase of the Route 113 dualization was left in the pipeline is surprising, officials said.

“Because of the recent economic downturn this year we have been forced to defer $1.1 billion in projects,” said Maryland Department of Transportation Secretary John D. Porcari.

“I don’t know how you were able to keep it,” said Sen. Lowell Stoltzfus (R – 38). “It’s huge [that] 113 stays in.”

No discussion of Route 113 could occur without lobbying from Shockley over the Routes 113 and 12 intersection, which has been the site of numerous motor vehicle accidents since its opening in December 2006. Last year, Shockley presented MDOT with a 740-signature petition asking for changes to the intersection.

“We’ve had six accidents since you were here last time. Nobody’s been killed. We keep racking ‘em up out there,” said Shockley.

The most recent accident could have been fatal, Shockley said, if a fireman had not been at the intersection and cut one person out of a seatbelt.

“It’s not as bad as it was [but] there are still people being hurt there,” said Shockley. “We’ve got to do something to get safety or were all going to end up going to a funeral.”

None of the MDOT officials addressed Shockley’s remarks.

Route 589, despite engineering money found during the last gubernatorial election year, will be stalled at the planning phase, unless slot machine gambling is approved by Maryland voters in November’s referendum, and only if Ocean Downs is then approved for slots.

“We have been working on engineering concepts,” said Pedersen, referring to the transformation of Route 589 from Routes 113 to 50 into a four-lane divided highway, with a possible interchange at Route 50.

“It is still unfunded. It is very important we move ahead with 589. The road is important even without slots,” said Commissioner Judy Boggs. “Can you give me any more hope about the funding of 589?”

MDOT hopes to promote a partnership between developers, county and state officials on the improvements to Route 589, Pedersen said.

“That’s not what I wanted to hear,” said Boggs.

Petersen said he was not in a position to give more of an answer.

“The reality is we’ve had to cut $1 billion from our capital program,” Pedersen replied.

Stoltzfus did back up Boggs, saying, “589, that’s highly important to us.”

Safe Traffic Along Route 589 Chair Joe Green praised the recent public open house held by SHA to present engineering work on roadway improvements.

 “People are glad to see there’s something going on to make 589 a safer route to travel,” said Green. “I’m going to do everything I can to keep the ball rolling for funding. I hope I’m here long enough to see the first shovel turned over.”