It was startling to hear City Hall is supporting alternative four of all the proposed Route 50 Bridge projects. Fortunately, this project will not be happening anytime soon, and there’s plenty of time to evaluate this enormous project. It’s worth pointing out this endorsed option received the most criticism from local people at the various public hearings held over the last few years.
The proposal calls for a new four-lane bridge with a high-level fixed span connecting south of 1st Street above the existing concrete plant. The bridge would have a 45-foot clearance, eliminating the need for a drawbridge. Initially, it was suggested the existing bridge be retained for pedestrian, bikers and fishermen, but the Mayor and Council seemed to frown on this idea. No word on whether the council’s opinion matters on that specific issue because the state owns the bridge. It’s strange that this option includes the highest number of displacements (25) and properties impacted (45), due to the ramps needed to access Baltimore and Philadelphia avenues and the elimination of parking on 5th Street, is the most expensive ($400 million) and would require the most changes to traffic patterns.
This project would result in a major change for Ocean City if it ever happens. Ocean City’s elected officials know this and the 5-2 vote this week tells me that’s what they want to see. The downtown area will be reshaped in a huge way. Maybe that’s a good thing, some may say and the council majority seems to think so. As Glenn Irwin, executive director of the Ocean City Development Corporation, the lead group seeking to improve downtown, put it in a recent interview, “If the state settles on option 4, that creates a new district that could be a kick start to development as well.”
The Inlet will go dark next winter, as the downtown Winterfest of Lights display has become a victim of budget cuts. The project is expected to save about $25,000 for the town. In light of the rampant budget cuts, it has been widely speculated Ocean City’s holiday lights campaign would eventually be hit with some reductions. It’s an easy target because it falls in the dead of winter. Nonetheless, this is a difficult one to weigh in on, and I have mixed emotions about the town on longer erecting Winterfest displays at the Inlet. I suspect this will not be a huge deal to residents and visitors, but it was a nice free perk. It will be interesting to hear if there are complaints next December when folks drive there and find nothing.
Uncertainty often translates into fear and panic. An example of this is what has been going on in local schools. The county’s huge budget deficit has school leaders in a fit of panic, and many are trying their best to get parents involved, resorting to scare tactics in many cases. At least two local elementary school principals have sent correspondence home with children alerting parents of potential funding reductions and the impact these cuts could have unless residents communicate with the County Commissioners.
The Ocean City Elementary School’s “Special Budget Announcement” addressed the required budget cuts and outlined “some possible ways that the reductions might be made…” Among other things, the letter suggested the county might order five furlough days per employee to reach the $1.6 million cuts. Additionally, since the county has been told no teacher who resigns, retires or moves will be replaced this year, the letter says 30 teachers and 60 educational assistants will be lost in the school system. Consequently, as far as OCES goes, the OC Stars program could end because a part-time music teacher vacancy will not be filled, causing the current music teacher and OC Stars leader to take on more of a load. That will mean OC Stars, a group of school students who perform at all the holiday parades and other events, could not continue, the letter states. “The termination of the OC Stars program would be a significant loss to our school and the community,” it reads.