State’s Worcester Focus Remains Dualizing Route 113; No Timeline Available For 589, 50 Bridge

SNOW HILL — The Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) made its annual pilgrimage to Worcester County again this week to update elected officials on transportation across the state. As is tradition, several of the commissioners asked about the status of their own pet projects as well as recent changes with the Motor Vehicle Association (MVA).
“Most importantly I will outline for you what the department plans to accomplish in the near term to upgrade our transportation network statewide,” said MDOT Deputy Secretary Wilson Parran.
It’s been a busy year for MDOT. Wilson gave a general sketch of some statistics for the year, including citizens served and projects in the works. BWI Marshall Airport served about 22 million passengers in 2012 and moved roughly 120,000 tons of freight. There was an estimated economic impact of 94,000 jobs, $3.6 billion in personal income, $5.6 billion in business revenue and $2 billion in local purchases.
Maryland toll facilities saw over 127,000 vehicles pass through with about 71 percent of those tolls collected electronically, which is billed as a time and money saver for residents. Likewise, the Maryland Transportation Authority (MTA) reached a public ridership of 153 million in FY2012. Ridership for the Washington Metropolitan Area system closed in on 124.5 million as well.
The State Highway Association (SHA) reported assisting 27,000 stranded motorists and responded and cleared more than 17,000 vehicle incidents, saving $1.1 billion in vehicle travel costs in CY2011. The SHA is also working on a number of projects in Worcester, all of which are being closely watched by the commission.
Commissioner Virgil Shockley took the opportunity to thank the SHA and District Engineer Donnie Drewer for the recent installation of a stop light at the intersection of Routes 12 and 113 south of Snow Hill. That intersection has been plagued for years by collisions, including fatalities. The community had been trying for more than a decade to get a light installed and this year the SHA did just that, despite its own traffic survey determining that a light was unnecessary.
“It’s a heck of a relief to the rescue team at Snow Hill and to everybody else who has to go down there,” said Shockley. “It’s working at about 95-percent right now.”
Drewer was glad to hear it and told Shockley that the intersection should further improve with the addition of J-turns in the area. However, Shockley is skeptical about the addition of J-turns to nearby Route 365, also known as Bay Street.
“Let’s talk about Bay Street for a minute. I’ve had a lot of people basically tell me point blank that if you’re going to do what you think you’re going to do there,” he told Drewer, “and intend to do there, they don’t want it.”
Drewer said Shockley’s concerns were noted and the SHA will monitor the project as it advances but the expectation is that Bay Street will be improved by any additions.
Commissioner Judy Boggs then asked about the status of upgrades to Route 589, a project that has been studied for dualization in the past. The north-south road runs from Route 113 to Route 50 and has seen tremendous commercial growth in recent years as the residential community of Ocean Pines has seen more year-round residents.
“As I’ve said before, this is a high priority right after Route 113 because it’s the only access to the outside world for about 15,000 people, with the water behind them and all of them have to access Route 589,” said Boggs.
As far as an expansion and renovation of Route 589, Highway Administrator Melinda Peters told Boggs that SHA is focused on ongoing work at Route 113 at the moment and a timetable for actual construction hasn’t been established and will likely be several years in the making.
“At this point, I couldn’t give you a time frame because there is no funding identified. At this point, your priority notice says 113,” Peters said.
Boggs also questioned the public safety aspect of the bridge at Turville Creek, though Drewer assured her it was in good shape and checked regularly.
Like her colleagues, Commission Louise Gulyas also had a pet project in the replacement of the Route 50 Bridge into Ocean City. MDOT confirmed that project is even further down the line.
Aside from projects, the commission discussed changes and expectations of the Motor Vehicle Association (MVA). Boggs asked about new rules for renewing driver’s licenses.
“I was just at MVA last week because I tried to renew my license by mail, and I got a letter in response saying, “you’re not eligible to renew by mail you must visit MVA.’ It didn’t say anything about doing it online,” she said.
Boggs was informed that online license renewal can be done by anyone under 40 once every two cycles. For those over 40, doctor’s information regarding eyesight needs to be on file for the renewal year. When someone renews their license, they are also randomly assigned a five-, six-, seven- or eight-year limit before they need to renew again. Eventually, the plan is to have everyone on an eight-year cycle.
One final point Shockley brought up was teaching MVA employees to be able to better distinguish between commercial and farm tags. He recently ran into difficulties in trying to renew his own farm tags and asked that MDOT help clarify this distinction to all of their employees across the state.
“And it’s not a commercial vehicle, it’s a farm vehicle. That’s why it has farm tags,” Shockley said. “And it seems to me there seems to be a mental block in that, if you walk in there and ask for this it’s like they look at you like you’re asking for the moon the stars and the planets.”
Shockley was assured that it would be looked into and MDOT left Worcester to continue their sweep of the Eastern Shore this week.