School Board Hears Potential Service Road Options

NEWARK – Worcester County Board of Education members this week got a first look at several options for the western terminus of the proposed Route 50 service road including two access points on Seahawk Rd. across from Stephen Decatur High School and Middle School and a new traffic signal along the highway.

The proposed service road will eventually run along the south side of Route 50 with Holly Grove Rd. at its eastern end and Seahawk Rd., across from the two county schools, at its western terminus. The intent is to create access to existing and future development along the Route 50 corridor for local traffic while keeping the main highway to the resort area open to through traffic.

There are at least 10 private property owners in the proposed service road area whose land would be directly impacted by the development of the corridor. In addition, there are environmental factors involved including the existence of unbuildable wetlands areas throughout the corridor.

As a result, several options are on the table each with good points and inherent problems. On Wednesday, attorney Mark Cropper, who represents several of the property owners along the proposed route, addressed the county school board, presenting several options for the western terminus of the proposed service road at Seahawk Rd., just across from two county public schools on the west side of the road. The initial plan called for a single access point on Seahawk Rd. across from the existing school bus exit point at Decatur High School.

Cropper explained that plan would create the greatest amount of hardship on the Harley Davidson property owners while contributing to the already congested area around the school, particularly during morning and afternoon drop-off and pick-up times at the schools.

Just south of the Harley Davidson property across from the schools is a nearly 10-acre undeveloped tract on which tentative plans are in place for a mixed-use commercial and retail development along with some residential. Cropper, who represents the property owners for the project tentatively called Liberty Square on Wednesday presented to school board members a proposed service road alignment that would best alleviate the traffic congestion around the schools while appeasing the property owners in the area and ensuring public safety.

The plan calls for a total of three access points for the service road on Seahawk Rd. including a right in, right out only access point across from Stephen Decatur Middle and another access point at the current exit from Stephen Decatur High on Seahawk Rd. The latter would be one-way east only allowing buses and student traffic heading east on the service road to connect to a new traffic signal on Route 50 near the existing Advance Auto store. The third access point would be further south on Seahawk Rd. and would be utilized only by emergency vehicles responding to the eventual Liberty Square project.

Cropper explained the intent of the plan was two-fold. The one-way east access point, which would be controlled by a part-time traffic signal, would accommodate heavy traffic leaving the schools and heading east on Route 50 to Ocean Pines, Ocean City and West Ocean City by connecting it new traffic signal further down the highway. Traffic leaving the schools heading west toward Berlin and other areas would still utilized the existing traffic light at Route 50 and Seahawk Rd.

“In theory, if Seahawk Rd. is already congested and you need a relief valve, this plan actually splits the traffic on Seahawk Rd.,” Cropper told school board members. “The concern today is where the service road connects with Seahawk Rd. Regardless of what happens, substantial improvements to Seahawk Rd. will be necessary to accommodate all of this.”

The County Commissioners last month reviewed the amended plan but withheld judgment until the various agencies affected by it had a chance to weigh in, including the Board of Education. Cropper said on Wednesday the State Highway Administration had endorsed it and an environmental assessment of the property concurred with the plan, leaving at least tacit approval by the school board as one of the missing pieces.

Decatur Principal Lou Taylor told school board members he wasn’t necessarily campaigning for the plan, but said improvements to the Seahawk Rd.-Route 50 intersection were paramount to any service road changes.

“I’m not arguing for this, but you all know the limitations we have now on Seahawk Rd.,” he said. “If any development is generated on the Liberty Square property, we have to have something in place. If they do anything on the other side of Seahawk Rd, if we don’t have a plan in place, we’re going to have a nightmare out there.”

Cropper assured school board members their input would be considered as part of any final plan.

“Any concerns you have we’ll corporate into our plan as best as possible,” he said. “We’re looking for your input on this now because it’s easier to change in the planning stages.”