Route 589 Proposals Outlined

SNOW HILL- A booklet sent out to local residents recently heralded the future of Route 589 as a dualized roadway, but promised little progress any time soon.

Short-term fixes are due by 2015, according to the State Highway Administration (SHA), with the long-term improvements projected by 2030. Without funding for the final design, the purchase of right-of-way land, and then funding for the actual construction of the road improvements, those dates are merely conjectural at this point.

The concepts presented in the booklet and before the Worcester County Commissioners this week came from a planning study authorized in 2006 after years of requests for some movement on the increasingly congested road. The public can weigh in on the different concepts at an open house November 17 at Stephen Decatur Middle School, from 4 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.

“That gives an opportunity for everyone to comment,” said county commission president Louise Gulyas.

Commissioner Judy Boggs agreed the public workshop format utilized in the past was successful.

“That worked very well the last time,” she said.

SHA District engineer Donnie Drewer told the county commissioners he hoped to have more information on the specific improvements planned at Ocean Downs, necessitated by the approval of slots at the racetrack, at that November 17 meeting. Track owner Bill Rickman has submitted a traffic analysis to SHA already. SHA has reviewed that analysis and has requested and received more information.

“We are in fact reviewing that information [now],” said Drewer.

Rickman will add, as required by state law, road improvements to take care of the impact of extra traffic from slots gamblers. The track owner has also asked for a traffic light at the entrance to Ocean Downs.

“We do know that there’ll be left and right turn lanes going into the main entrance,” said Drewer. He also expects a left turn lane to be added into McAllister Rd.

Widening of Route 589 along the road in front of the track should take place as well.  

“The improvements will end 700 feet north of the racetrack access,” said Carmaletta Harris, SHA project manager for the Route 589 improvements.

Highway improvements made in anticipation of slot machine gambling at Ocean Downs, at the southern end of Route 589, will be completed over the winter and spring. The racetrack is slated to open for slot machine gambling by Memorial Day.

SHA’s short-term changes cover safety improvements for walkers and cyclists, adding turn lanes at intersections, adjusting the timing of signals, adding travel lanes on some stretches of roadway, and managing access to the highway.

Over the long-term, Route 589 should see dualization along all 4.7 miles of highway, a new interchange at the Route 50 intersection, and changes to intersections for greater safety.

The new interchange at Route 50 will feature an overpass which will allow motorists on Route 589 to access Route 50 east and west, and which will connect to the service road planned south of Route 50. 

With the interchange, Route 589 will be shifted west at the Route 50 intersection to minimize construction impacts such as detours and closed roads.  Gray’s Corner Rd. would be closed west of Route 589 because of safety concerns, while Gray’s Corner Rd. to the east will be connected with the westbound Route 50 off ramp.

SHA is proposing three interchange concepts, with varying set-ups for ramps and road connections.     

Current plans for the length of Route 589 call for a curb and gutter system through the built up middle section of the road, with an open design featuring drainage swales instead of gutters from Route 50 to Penning Estates, and from Beauchamp Rd. to Route 113.

Both types of dualized roadway would feature a landscaped median, a sidewalk along the west side, and a hiking/biking path on the east side.

After a closed meeting next week with stakeholders, and the November 17 public meeting, SHA will consider the public input received over the course of winter 2010. SHA will create a corridor vision document over this coming winter as well.

“We’re going to get the comments. We’re going to address the comments,” said Harris. She said she would also come back to the commissioners after the public meeting and review that input.

Gulyas expressed some worry over the slots legislation, which says that the state may, but not shall, improve Route 589 beyond what the property owner is required to do.

“I think we’ve shown we’re committed to 589 by doing this feasibility study,” Drewer said.

As usual, funding for the improvements could be a major stumbling block. Rickman will likely pay only for the improvements required of him, while the rest will likely be funded by the state. The short-term improvements can be done one piece at a time and through the regular SHA budget, probably, but money for the long-term improvements has to come from elsewhere, Drewer warned.