State Picks Parallel Route 50 Bridge Option

OCEAN CITY – After years
of back-and-forth debate, the State Highway Administration (SHA) announced this
week it had formally selected a preferred alternative to replace the aging Harry
Kelley Memorial Bridge, choosing the option to construct a new bridge parallel
to the existing span with a new system of ramps to keep traffic flowing in and
out of the resort.

SHA officials on
Wednesday announced the agency had chosen Alternative 5A, which turned out to
be the preferred option of Ocean City and Worcester County officials after much
consternation during the planning phase. Alternative 5A is a new bridge
parallel to and considerably higher than the existing span. The design does
include a drawbridge at the span’s apex, about 30 feet high in the same area as
the existing drawbridge portion.

Alternative 5A would
enter Ocean City at nearly the same location as the current bridge at North
Division Street, but an elaborate system of ramps and access points would
improve traffic flow in and out of the resort. SHA District Engineer Donnie
Drewer has been fond of saying “you can’t pour 10 gallons of water into a
two-gallon bucket,” during the planning process over the years, referring to
problems any new span would have entering the current configuration of the
downtown area.

However, Alternative 5A,
despite its new ramp system at the eastern terminus, would have the least
impact on residential and commercial property in the resort. According to the current
plan, one house and seven businesses would be displaced, the fewest of any of
the other options on the table.

What to do with the
existing bridge has always been a point of debate during the planning phases
for a new bridge. According to the SHA plan, the existing 68-year-old span will
remain as a fishing pier with its draw span removed, which provides an
recreational fishing opportunity, but does not address the pedestrian and
bicycle traffic issue. However, keeping the draw span intact would defeat the
purpose of the new, higher bridge.

While SHA has selected
Alternative 5A, the new bridge will likely not be built for 25 years or more.
Thus far, the estimated $300 million project in 2010 dollars is only funded for
planning with no funding in place for engineering, design and construction. SHA
officials believe the current bridge has several decades of life in it still.

While local residents
and visitors won’t be heading across the new bridge for decades, they are
encouraged to “drive it before we build it” with a virtual animation program
available on-line that put citizens in the driver’s seat to see first-hand how
the new bridge will operate.

“This is an exciting way
to virtually drive the proposed alternative for plans to replace the U.S. 50
Vridge and the approaches into Ocean City,” said SHA Administrator Neil
Pederson. “SHA anticipates using this type of virtual animation on future
planning projects.”

The visualization can be found on SHA’s website on the

“projects and studies” page. Interested citizens are instructed to visit the
Maryland map on the bottom of the page and click on the “U.S. 50 Ocean Gateway”
link, which will lead them to the virtual animation of the bridge.