Council Realizes Error With Favored Bridge Option

OCEAN CITY — It took a 3-D presentation from the State Highway Administration (SHA) to show the Mayor and City Council that they fancied options 5A and 5C for the future aesthetic of the Route 50 Bridge.

On Feb. 27, 2009, the City Council voted 5-2, with council members Jim Hall and Margaret Pillas in opposition, to give their proverbial blessing to the SHA’s most costly option for a bridge rebuild: the $400 million option 4 that called for a 45-foot fixed span bridge and create an overpass into Ocean City’s downtown, altering traffic patterns and rerouting the off ramp traffic toward 5th Street.  Option 4 would also displace the greatest amount of properties (45) and residents (25), according to the proposal.

However, on Tuesday, when the SHA brought a 3-D simulation which showed the council what it had given its blessing to almost a year ago, there was a rapid change of heart amongst the voting seven, so much so, they voted unanimously to remove option 4 from their recommendation and favored options 5A and/or 5C instead.

“Can we see the next option please?,” queried Council President Joe Mitrecic. “That’s not the one that we want.”

Councilman Jim Hall, who had voted against option 4 a year ago, took the opportunity to motion for the complete removal of the idea from the table.

“I don’t know why we are still talking about option 4, because we didn’t like it, the County Commissioners didn’t like it, and there’s a lot of anxiety about how much this is going to change the look and feel of downtown, and how many people and properties it’s going to effect,” said Hall. “I’d like to see this option just go away.”

When reminded that it was still on the table because the council had voted for it a year ago, SHA representative Jamaica Kennon said that option 4 couldn’t be taken off the table per se, but rather the council could give a new recommendation for the June 3 workshop that the SHA is planning with the public.

The council members sat in quiet amazement as the SHA showed a virtual simulation of how each option would effect the downtown area, and the council quickly opted to lean toward option 5A, which would see a 30-foot span placed just north of the existing bridge but wouldn’t alter the placement of the off ramps into Ocean City, or 5C, which would be essentially a rebuild of the existing bridge, keeping both the 18-foot draw span, and the same off ramp traffic patterns.

“I think the 3-D presentation really made all the difference,” said Mayor Rick Meehan. “I think the council made the right decision on Tuesday and even though the larger structure would have solved some problems for us it would have also created some new problems. We have to remember that we are a beach town, and even though I’m leaning towards a little bit higher of a span to ease traffic concerns, there are some people who want to keep our downtown gateway as quaint as possible.”

However, City Manager Dennis Dare still thinks that option 4 would be the best for the town, and he said this is a prime opportunity to address the longstanding concerns with traffic and congestion in the downtown area.

“Option 4 is the solution to the two main problems that have always been talked about since I’ve been in Ocean City, and that’s traffic and the need to redevelop downtown,” said Dare. This is a once in a lifetime chance to take a huge step to address the traffic problem down there, and by creating a new entry into Ocean City a few blocks north, which would free up space to redevelop downtown. I don’t disagree that options 5A and 5C might be a lesser change that people can get behind, but they shouldn’t complain about traffic anymore if they don’t choose option 4.”

Mitrecic said from an engineering point of view, he agrees with Dare, but he says that you can’t just look at engineering in this argument.

“I agree that option 4 would take care of the traffic concerns to a greater extent, but I have to think about the aesthetics too, and how many people option 4 would displace,” said Mitrecic. “I hope the SHA goes with the highest span possible and fit it as close to the existing bridge as possible.”

The SHA noted that there is no money available for this project and the entire process will stop at planning for the foreseeable future, but at the very least, it is clear that the Mayor and Council have now flip-flopped on last year’s vote, and now favor the far less impacting bridge plan of either 5A or 5C.