Route 90 Improvements Dialogue Spirited

OCEAN CITY—Mayor Rick Meehan knows that the likelihood of dualizing Route 90 in the next few years is slim, but more importantly, he says that the conversation needs to become serious now for the future planning of Ocean City.

After his comments to State Highway Administration District Engineer Donnie Drewer last week concerning his desire to see the dualization of Route 90 happen before the reconstruction or renovation of the Route 50 bridge, the conversation has apparently begun, at least on the local level.

Ed Ellis, owner of Ocean Petroleum, former city councilman, and former board member of the Maryland Transportation Commission, said this week that any dualization of Route 90 would essentially be in vain unless the intersection that dumps traffic onto Coastal Highway is addressed and vastly improved as well.

“What the town needs to come to terms with is that until they address the need for a cloverleaf, overpass, or flyover from the Route 90 bridge coming into town, adding more lanes to Route 90 is just going to be millions of dollars spent to essentially park cars that will be stuck in traffic”, said Ellis.

Ellis said that there is an obvious capacity issue at the mid-town gateway to Ocean City as exampled by the multiple mile backups on Route 90 on the weekends in the summer.  He argues that with the “uncontrolled development” of the Route 50 corridor, more people are using Route 90 than ever before, causing the need for a serious look at not only dualization, but more importantly in his opinion, a larger and more efficient entry point onto Coastal Highway from Route 90.

“Route 50 is almost past the point of no return, and because land was so cheap over there years ago, it caused more and more businesses to set up shop in West Ocean City,” said Ellis. “The growth over there just encourages people to get in their cars and leave the island, and in my opinion, that has basically destroyed retail in Ocean City in the last few years. With good planning, there could have been retail centers like the outlet mall in West Ocean City in town at places like the 94th Street Mall or even at 45th street.”

Ellis’ argument for an overpass dumping traffic into mid-town Ocean City could ironically go right through City Solicitor Guy Ayres’ office, but even Ellis’ concedes that getting any idea concerning widening or improving Route 90 would take a lot at this point at the state level.

“I honestly think that it’s going to be a while before anyone has the brass to propose dualization of Route 90 at the state level, and the state has already spent millions planning for the Route 50 bridge project, so in my opinion, the town needs to wake up to this,” he said.

Meehan said that the cloverleaf idea coming into town has merit and would certainly be looked at, but it’s not one that he agrees with.

“I’ve been pretty forthright in saying that I’m not in favor of the cloverleaf or overpass concept on the Route 50 bridge, or the Route 90 bridge,” said Meehan. “But I do believe that the dualization of Route 90 is essential and we need to try to move forward with it as soon as possible, just like I think that it’s good that the SHA is trying to get a basic idea of what the downtown entry way to Ocean City is going to look like in 20 years so we can plan how the downtown is going to be developed from now until then.”

City Manager Dennis Dare said that what should be on the to-do list if the town is serious in Route 90 being dualized is to get it on the state’s capital project list.

“Maryland has some of the best highways in the country, but what we really need to do is get the dualization of Route 90 on the state’s capital project list,” said Dare. “That isn’t even on the list right now, and getting it on that list should be the first step.”

Dare also noted that the three entry and departure points that the town has, one of which, they don’t control (Route 1 in Delaware) has been a thorn in it’s side for as long as the town or the bridges have existed.

“It’s always going to be somewhat of an issue,” said Dare. “To have a town that has 30,000 dwelling units and only three ways in and out obscenely limits the access and adds to the inconvenience factor on our visitors and residents when something like what we are dealing with now (Route 90 bridge closing) happens. A two-lane Route 90 bridge was always supposed to be an interim thing, and I think that now is the time to get it done the right way for the future.”

Regardless of desire, proper political posturing or even simply getting the idea on the state’s radar is the issue of funding, and as the state knows first hand, money is becoming harder and harder to find these days.

“We know taxes are down and maintenance costs are up,” said Dare. “And everyone knows that this isn’t something that is going to happen anytime soon, but we feel it’s important to take the steps now.”

Both Dare and Meehan argue that from a safety standpoint, for example evacuation purposes, the handful of lanes that can be used to get out of Ocean City is not enough, and is reason enough to validate the need for dualization.

Public Works director Hal Adkins nodded to part of Ellis’ theory by saying that dualization of Route 90 would create more “stacking capacity,” but argued that if the project happened, that the SHA could be able to adjust the timing of the traffic signals at the intersection of Route 90 and coastal highway handle the heavy flows during peak times in a more efficient manner.

At any rate, town leaders are pleased that the conversation has been rekindled, but realize that at this point, it’s just that.