OCEAN CITY — Bridges are a hot topic around Ocean City these days, and this week, the conversation about the two major conduits into Ocean City ranged from worry to wishful thinking.
As the apex of the Route 90 Bridge over Assawoman Bay gets a major overhaul, some in the town’s hierarchy are quietly concerned about the status of the other bridges in town, after it was revealed that the St. Martin’s span of the bridge also showed some signs of deterioration.
Maryland State Highway Administration (SHA) District Engineer Donnie Drewer updated the Mayor and Council on the current Route 90 Bridge (Assawoman span) project on Tuesday, noting that the project is still on schedule for a mid-December completion, but he thwarted concern about the safety of the St. Martin’s span of Route 90 after Councilman Doug Cymek challenged him on it on Tuesday.
“We inspected the St. Martin’s span the same day that we found the problem on the Assawoman span of Route 90,” said Drewer. “We did find some similar concrete spawling and deterioration, and there are signs of exposed reinforced steel in a few places, but in no way is it in as bad of shape as the Assawoman span, and it’s not an emergency situation by any means.”
SHA spokesman Charlie Gischler told The Dispatch last week that if one were to look underneath the St. Martin’s span of the Route 90 bridge, it could appear to the untrained eye that the deteriorating concrete creates the same weight limitations and structural concerns as the Assawoman Bay span had, which led to its closure and the current replacement of 85 feet of bridge.
“It’s more of an aesthetic problem than a structural one,” said Gischler. “Our engineers and inspectors found the St. Martin’s span to be structurally sound and although we will repair the spawling concrete under that bridge, it will not be a major project that causes any big inconvenience to the public.”
Gischler also noted the fact that deteriorating infrastructure in this country, mainly bridges and roadways, is a growing concern, and as a result of trying to be proactive, Gischler said that the SHA has offered up a piece of the Route 90 Bridge that is being replaced to be used for testing in Washington, DC by the federal government.
“They are going to do tests to see why the pre-cast concrete is deteriorating before it is supposed to be, and explore ways to make infrastructure not only in Maryland, but also the whole country, safer and more durable,” said Gischler.
On Tuesday, Drewer’s report to the Mayor and Council prompted Mayor Rick Meehan to broach the subject of the eventual dualization of the Route 90 Bridge.
“I think your estimated date for completion is very reasonable for the scope of the work that has to be done,” said Meehan, “and we as a community would like to thank (the SHA) for that, but I would like to note that I still feel that the number one priority concerning bridges in this area for the future is the dualization of Route 90 and I think what has happened makes this very evident.”
Meehan said that he believes that the dualization, or essentially adding a parallel bridge span next to the current Route 90 bridge, would be vital for emergency and evacuation situations, and to ease the flow of summer time traffic. Meehan also told Drewer that he believes that the state should consider the dualization of Route 90 well before it moves forward with it’s long-term plan of building a brand new Route 50 Bridge, estimated to be in the $400 million range.
“I know that the Route 50 Bridge project is probably 20-25 years away, but I don’t think that we can wait 20 years to dualize Route 90,” said Meehan. “Route 90 is really the direct connector from both Route 113 and Route 50, and this current project shows us just how important that roadway is to the town of Ocean City. From a time standpoint, Route 90 is the quicker way in and out of town, especially if you look at all the development that has taken place along the Route 50 corridor. So in my eyes, Route 90 is the option that would stabilize entry into Ocean City.”
Meehan said later in the week that he has been in contact with Governor Martin O’Malley and expressed his desire to dualize the Route 90 Bridge, but he says he realizes that budget concerns and lack of funding will be the main thing keeping this from becoming even a possible reality in the near future.
Meehan says he just wants to keep the idea on the state’s radar, and he’s seemingly got some support from the City Council.
“Just for evacuation possibilities alone, it makes much more sense to dualize Route 90 than it does to put a brand new bridge on Route 50,” said Council President Joe Mitrecic. “The Route 90 bridge closing has affected everyone, and it’s causing some businesses to simply fall off the charts, but soon, they will get this current project done, and everyone will forget that it was closed in a few months.”
Drewer said that all the materials needed to replace the bridge span over Assawoman Bay are on-site and the removal of the 85-foot span was scheduled to begin on Wednesday.
“We will be done before Christmas, that’s a guarantee,” said Drewer.