Worcester Officials Outline Priority Road Projects

SNOW HILL — A meeting with the Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) Monday gave the Worcester County Commission a chance to learn about the state’s six-year project budget while also allowing individual commissioners to bring up their own pet transportation concerns.

Some of the future projects the commission focused on include the dualization of both Route 589 and Route 90, the potential for a stoplight at the intersection of Route 113 and Langmaid Road and the condition of the Route 50 Harry Kelley Bridge.

The issues the commissioners vetted with MDOT this week have all been on the county’s radar for some time. It’s impossible for every project to have top priority but several commissioners went to bat for transportation problems within their own districts.

“We need sidewalks in West Ocean City to the [Harry Kelley] Bridge,” said Commissioner Louise Gulyas.

Dualization of Route 90 into Ocean City and the replacement of the Route 50 Bridge were both also on Gulyas’ list. Ocean City Mayor Rick Meehan echoed the need for improvements to Route 90 as it becomes used by more and more vacationers traveling to the resort.

“Route 90 is one of only three access points in and out of Ocean City,” he said. “It is the mid-town access point and probably becoming more and more important each and every year.”

Meehan restated Ocean City’s desire to have Route 90 officially placed on the county’s transportation priority list, which currently only includes the dualization of Route 113 as the most urgent project with Route 90 as well as Route 589’s dualization listed only as “considerations.”

Route 90’s importance could increase going forward following the mechanical failure of the Route 50 Bridge in July.

“That was just for five hours on a Saturday afternoon,” said the Mayor. “But what really needs to come to mind and we really need to focus on is the potential for actual disasters in Ocean City and the potential for hurricanes, which we’ve had two of in the last three years.”

A bridge failure during such an event could be catastrophic, Meehan warned.

One of the other transportation “considerations” that a commissioner broached as being worth some priority was the dualization of Route 589, which has been the county’s second priority behind Route 113 for years. The road serves as the only connecting artery between Ocean Pines and the rest of the county.

“It has always kind of been on a back-burner because of Route 113 and the amount of money available,” Commissioner Judy Boggs said. “And I am delighted to see that there is an impressive amount of cash flowing now from the Department of Transportation that will certainly enhance many projects. But with Route 589, by the time you get around to improving it, you won’t be able to get on it to improve it.”

On a smaller project scale, Commissioner Virgil Shockley re-affirmed his belief that the intersection of Route 113 and Langmaid Road in Newark is in need of a stoplight. The continued dualization will cause that intersection to widen and Shockley is adamant that without a traffic signal it could become dangerous.

“You’re going to have the same situation [as Route 12 in Snow Hill]. Not with the same amount of traffic that you had at Route 12 and US 113 but you’re putting people in a position that are going to make bad decisions,” Shockley said. “And when you’ve got a third of your fire department living on one side of the road and half across the road it’s just a bad situation.”

Senator Jim Mathias also weighed in on the county’s transportation needs during the meeting. At the top of the list for him personally is the restoration of Highway User Funds to local governments. The funds have traditionally been cycled through the state with a portion returned to the counties every year. Since the economic downturn in 2008, however, the local slice of Highway User Funds has diminished dramatically with the state retaining the lion’s share, something Mathias promised to work to reverse.

“It may not be all in one fell swoop, but I’ll work to guarantee, through my individual efforts, that we can phase those monies back in to make certain that you can do the work that you have to do on your roadways here in the county to keep them safe,” Mathias said.

Monday’s meeting also included a general update on transportation locally and in Maryland. Regionally, MDOT was happy to report that Shore Transit is slated to receive an additional $200,000 in funding that will be used to finance two new routes in West Ocean City and in downtown Salisbury.

MDOT Secretary James Smith noted that roughly $1 billion in transportation projects and services are underway. A release from Gov. Martin O’Malley laid out Maryland’s six-year, roughly $16 billion transportation budget.

“This budget increases construction spending by $6.1 billion, or 67-percent, compared to our budget before the Transportation Act was passed,” read the release. “With a steady stream of funding in place, our Consolidated Transportation Program (CTP) will again play a key role in our efforts to achieve our shared goals.”