Smaller Project May Determine Boardwalk’s Overall Condition

OCEAN CITY — Millions of people walk on the Ocean City Boardwalk each year, and presumably, only a mere few have ever cast more than a passing thought to what really lies underneath the town’s most treasured tourist attraction.

With town officials hinting at a possible massive reconstruction of the Boardwalk in the next several years, Public Works Director Hal Adkins tried to explain what is being discussed and the reasons why the infrastructure under the Boardwalk might be getting a new look as well.

“Currently, there are a series of wooden timber pilings in single rows that run east to west, and then on top of those are heavy timber beams that we call whalers also running east to west,” said Adkins via phone interview on Wednesday. “On top of the whalers we have what we call stringers, that resemble 4-foot-by-6-foot beams that run north and south, and finally on top of those we have the Boardwalk 2-foot-by-6-foot decking boards that run diagonally.”

Adkins points out that the entire infrastructure under the Boardwalk is entirely made of wood, and since the majority of the wood dates back as far as the early ‘60s, and none of the infrastructure has been tampered with or renovated since 1985, it is more than likely time for a massive overhaul.

Adkins will oversee the upcoming Boardwalk deck replacement between 12th and 13th streets, and the Mayor and Council is expected to award the projected six-figure bid to an outside company on Monday night. All the while City Engineer Terry McGean will be essentially planning the possible major Boardwalk reconstruction further down the road.

“Much of the Boardwalk structure [piling and girders] north of North Division is now over 40 years old and is starting to show signs of weakness,” said McGean. “I will be working on different designs for the structure and looking at some alternate deck materials as well. Yet, as part of this year’s decking project we have identified some alternate deck materials such as recycled plastic and different treatment types for the wood.”

Much of the Boardwalk was destroyed after the storm of 1962, and it was completely rebuilt to what it is commonly seen, visited and beloved today. City Manager Dennis Dare said at the time, the Boardwalk was given the name Atlantic Avenue so it could receive some funding from the State Highway Administration to ease the cost of the reconstruction.  Then, after Hurricane Gloria ravaged much of the Boardwalk in 1985, Dare, who was working as city engineer at the time, was given the task to oversee the rebuilding of what was destroyed in less than a year to get the town’s most visited tourist destination by the following Memorial Day.

Dare said that in 1985, entire portions of the Boardwalk were washed away, and in other spots, severely damaged, leaving only the infrastructure underneath the deck.

“Back then, the two things I needed, time and money, we didn’t have, but we got it done in time, and what resulted is the way the Boardwalk looks today,” said Dare.

As Dare, McGean, and Adkins plan the long-term reconstruction project, they will be evaluating not only the costs for the project, but also the materials they should use to ensure a longer lifecycle of the Boardwalk.

“For 23 years, we’ve essentially just replaced boards as needed, but much of it is four decades old and we’ve got tons of foot traffic and the tram running on it,” said Dare. “So this project is kind of imminent and it will cause us to rethink the infrastructure underneath for the future.”

The upcoming Boardwalk Decking replacement between 12th and 13th streets will provide a glimpse of what the long-term project is going to entail, according to Adkins.

“We don’t want to go and randomly tear up portions of the Boardwalk to see what’s under there from N. Division to 27th streets, so we have a pretty defined theory that what we find beneath what the inspector says is the weakest spot on the Boardwalk will show us what the whole project needs to be,” Adkins said.

The other concern in this case is obviously how the city is going to pay for it, even though the task is years away, according to Dare.

Some have indicated that the city will have to go to the bond market, but that, according to Adkins and Dare, is a concern that will be further on up the road.

The city’s indefinite tabling of capital improvement’s projects, which the Boardwalk reconstruction would inevitably fall under, means that the town is going not going to have funding available, nor the man power to perhaps do the job themselves.

“When the economy goes bad the way it has, the first thing we cut is capital projects, and the second is services,” said Dare. “Everyone wants to have their trash picked up and the streets cleaned and things like that but they still want their taxes lowered and for us to keep up the infrastructure.  Right now, we have to find the means to pay for all those things with less money, and plan for this big project that’s coming down the pike, too.”