County, Resort Differ On Bridge’s Future

SNOW HILL – The north parallel bridge proposal, also know as Alternative 5A, received unanimous support Tuesday from the Worcester County Commissioners as the Route 50 bridge replacement option that would have the least impact on residences and businesses in the Ocean City area.

The commissioners voted on their chosen bridge replacement during a meeting with Maryland State Highway Administration (SHA) officials this week. Their decision is not the same as the proposal favored by the Ocean City Mayor and Council.

Alternative 5A would run just north of the current bridge and almost directly parallel the existing structure. This version would displace only one house and seven businesses, the lowest number of impacts of any option.

“It has the least impact in the downtown area and that’s what we’re looking for,” said County Commission President Louise Gulyas.

This version is projected to cost about $330 million. The 5A plan would include a drawbridge in the 30-foot high bridge, which can increase traffic delays. More maintenance would also be needed.

“I’ve had a lot of calls on this,” said Commissioners Bud Church.

Church concurred that alternative 5A would be the best choice, noting that the fewest properties would be impacted and less money would be spent.

“One thing that concerns me most –why leave the old bridge up if it’s going to have the draw span in it?” Gulyas said. “I think that that should be taken away.”

Some section of the bridge could be left attached to the west side to allow fishing, Gulyas suggested.

The fate of the old span can be addressed later, Church said.

SHA had asked the commissioners to weigh in on the future of the Route 50 Bridge in March, but the commissioners in turn asked SHA to hold another public hearing for citizen input on the most desirable bridge option.

A late May public hearing attended by 115 citizens revealed that Alternative 5A and Alternative 2 were the most favored overall with Alternative 4, which will have the most impact on the ground, receiving more opposition than support.

County elected officials said in March that they would rather see the bridge rehabilitated, under Alternative 2, and not replaced.

At this week’s meeting, SHA consultant Scott Holcomb said that option one, maintenance only, and Alternative 2, rehabilitation and improvements, were not viable solutions.

Both options would provide another 20 to 25 years of working life for the existing bridge, but the span would still need to be replaced at the end of that time.

Rehabilitation of the existing bridge would also cost around $130 million, according to SHA planning documents.

“Alternate 2 is not a viable solution any longer,” Holcomb said, since the Office of Bridge Design determined that the bridge cannot be rehabilitated to last longer than 25 years. “They would like us to choose a new bridge alternative.”

The new bridge probably won’t be complete before the useful life of the bridge runs out anyway, said Commissioner Judy Boggs.

Other alternatives the commissioners rejected included the most expensive and disruptive option, Alternative 4, which has been selected by the Ocean City Mayor and Council as the most desirable. The Ocean City Department of Public Works also favors this alternative.

Alternative 4 would add a fixed span bridge, with 45 feet of clearance to eliminate the need for a drawbridge, and angle northeast of the existing bridge. Without the draw span, less maintenance would be necessary and traffic flow would improve, according to SHA documents.

The option would also stay clear of boat access and the Villas at Inlet Isle. An SHA list of pros and cons for this approach also notes that many impacted properties are already for sale, are vacant, are parking lots or are owned by the same entity.

The cons include the price tag, at $400 million the most expensive option, the largest impact on privately-owned property, reduced on-street parking, and the highest amount of change to traffic patterns.

This option has also received the most public opposition.

“It seems like the disadvantages far outweigh the advantages,” said Boggs. “The cons outweigh the pros.”

SHA will make its decision on the alternative to pursue some time this year with final location and design approval slated for summer 2010.

Funding has only been assigned to the planning work, said project manager Jamaica Kennon.

“Right now we don’t know when we’ll have funding for any future portions of the bridge,” Kennon said.