SHA Favors New Bridge Option

OCEAN CITY – The fate of the Route 50 Bridge came into question on Tuesday as State Highway Administrators revealed a new bridge would be needed in the not so distant future.

Jamaica Kennon of the Maryland State Highway Administration (SHA) presented several ideas for a new bridge to the Mayor and City Council with some severely altering the downtown and potentially displacing residents and businesses.

Kennon called the bridge “functionally obsolete” due to its narrow roadway and the lack of shoulder on the bridge, which deems it “inadequate to handle the traffic that it carries.” The current span was built in 1942 and spans 2,295 feet with a draw span of 140 feet and a height of 15 feet.

The 15-foot clearance causes traffic to stop repeatedly throughout the summer months to accommodate the maritime traffic. This fact was a large driving factor in the proposed ideas for a new bridge.

Several of the proposals, each with different layouts, designs and prices, included keeping the existing bridge to be used by pedestrians bikers and fishermen, who currently all share the same five-foot sidewalk. A new bridge would be constructed with all options offering higher clearance to reduce the amount of traffic stoppages for the drawbridge to open and close.

Mayor Rick Meehan said that though the bridge might be considered historical, the problems that it causes far outweigh nostalgia.

“It’s historically been a problem,” said Meehan. “I didn’t anticipate that we were going to leave the whole bridge up in its entirety. I can see leaving parts of it, but if you leave it in there in its entirety, you are still going to have to open the old drawbridge up and down every time there’s a boat that needs to pass underneath.”

Based on the study, SHA is recommending alternative 4, which was the most expensive at approximately $400 million and had the largest amount of impact to properties and residents with 45 property displacements and 25 resident displacements. Kennon urged that if in fact the alternative 4 was decided upon and green lighted, most of the properties that would be impacted were either for sale or vacant.

Alternative 4 features a fixed span bridge that would have a 45-foot clearance that would eliminate the need for a drawbridge with an increased 5-percent grade as opposed to the current 4-percent grade, but would cause the largest amount of impact as ramps would need to be constructed to access Baltimore and Philadelphia avenues and would eliminate parking on 5th Street and current traffic patterns on 1st and 2nd streets, according to Scott Holcomb of Gannett Fleming company, which comprised the study for the SHA

“The good thing is that there is no money available for this project right now, said Councilman Jim Hall. “Alternative 4 wrecks downtown and puts a giant cloverleaf highway grid in the middle of downtown.”

The report at Tuesday’s meeting only sought to get Mayor and City Council’s feedback. SHA will be back in February to further discuss the issue and the properties that could potentially be affected.