SNOW HILL — Pedestrian safety, public transportation, and Worcester County’s freight and rail system were all issues discussed by the Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) during its visit with the County Commissioners Tuesday.
With funding scarce in general, the commissioners made it clear that those are three services they don’t want to see slip through the cracks.
Pedestrian safety especially is something that MDOT is promising to concentrate on.
“The move is for really focused safety and system preservation,” said Greg Slater, director of Planning and Preliminary Engineering for the State Highway Administration (SHA).
He explained that, while fatalities involving motorists have remained relatively static the last few years, there has been a noticeable increase in pedestrian related highway deaths, which has grown to represent about 20 percent of fatalities.
The commission agreed that it was a priority.
“We need some crosswalks in west Ocean City,” asserted Commissioner Louise Gulyas.
She outlined a plan to install three crosswalks along Route 50 near Hooper’s restaurant, the intersection at Golf Course Rd, and the intersection of Route 611. Gulyas conceded that adding walking lights might be too much of an expense at the moment, but maintained that just having crosswalks painted should cut down on accidents and improve safety.
Another cheap way to promote safety, according to Gulyas, would be to lower the speed limit from the Route 50 Bridge to Herring Creek Rd.
“In the summertime it’s not the on-ramp to I-97,” she said.
As for public transportation, several on the commission defended Shore Transit and expressed a desire for MDOT to supply as much funding for the program as possible.
“It’s an essential part of what we have to have down here,” said Commissioner Virgil Shockley.
He pointed out that the bus services provided by Shore Transit help students and workers who would otherwise lack for transportation get to where they need to go..
“To those five people [who may use it] that means having a job or not having a job,” he said.
Gulyas added that besides students and workers, Shore Transit helps transport tourists and shoppers in the summertime and it’s a vital part of the local economy.
“Shore Transit is very important to all areas, but especially to Ocean City,” she said.
One final area of concern that MDOT brought up is Worcester’s freight network.
“I know freight and rail freight are important here on the shore,” said Secretary of Transportation Beverly Swaim-Staley.
The poultry industry especially, agreed Gulyas, requires the county to have a strong rail system to transport goods. If that should ever be in jeopardy, she feared the repercussions to Worcester’s economy.
“The trickledown effect would be unbelievable if we lost Tyson in Snow Hill,” said Gulyas, a reality she predicted could happen if the poultry plant ever found itself with a substandard freight system.
In that scenario, Gulyas said, Tyson might decide to pull up stakes and leave the county.
MDOT was receptive to the comments and suggestions made by the commission during the meeting.
Swaim-Staley also took a moment to address what she called the “urban myth” that the state general fund siphons transportation funds without ever paying them back.
“That is not the case,” she promised.
But there are a number of other factors, admitted Swaim-Staley, that have resulted in funding drying up.