OCEAN CITY — Ocean City officials this week continued to push for moving the future dualization of Route 90 further up the county’s priority list for State Highway Administration (SHA) projects, but improvements to the corridor remain near the bottom of the pecking order.
On Tuesday, SHA officials briefed the Mayor and Council on a variety of projects in various stages of its planning pipeline in and around the resort during its bi-annual meeting with the town’s elected officials. Inevitably, the discussion came around to the proposed future dualization of Route 90, a major entranceway to the resort.
For years, Ocean City officials have expressed their desire to see Route 90 prioritized ahead of the Route 50 Bridge, but it remains mired behind other major highway projects in Worcester County, most notably the ongoing dualization of Route 113. For last two decades or so, the state has been dualizing sections of Route 113 from the Delaware line to south of Snow Hill in a somewhat piecemeal fashion with frequent gaps in the activity, but the latest section from Five Mile Branch to Public Landing Road was fully funded this summer and construction is underway.
Meanwhile, Mayor and Acting City Manager Rick Meehan asked SHA District Engineer Donnie Drewer and Assistant District Engineer Dallas Baker on Tuesday where the dualization of Route 90 fell on the state’s Consolidated Transportation Program (CTP) for Worcester County.
“Unfortunately, Route 90 is not included in the current draft plan for 2016,” said Drewer. “Route 113 is fully-funded, and from that point forward, it’s up to the politicians to set the priorities.”
Setting the priorities for SHA projects in Worcester falls largely on the County Commissioners with input from the municipalities. For years, Route 113 has remained the top priority in Worcester, but also on the list in no particular order are Route 589, the eventual replacement of the Harry Kelley Memorial Bridge on Route 50 and Route 90 among others. While Route 113 is moving slowly through the construction phase, most of the other projects on the list aren’t in the feasibility phase yet. Typically, SHA projects first go through pre-planning and feasibility, then design and engineering and ultimately construction.
Starting a project in the process, such as the Route 90 dualization, for example, relies largely on the priority list and funding availability. Drewer said Route 113 remains the county’s top priority and other projects will follow depending on funding.
“We’re not in a position to do all of the priorities,” he said. “We have to do them one at a time, and for years, Route 113 has been the top priority here.”
Meehan, however, pushed for Route 90 to at least remain in the conversation. He said the project didn’t appear to get much traction in SHA’s most recent meetings with the County Commissioners.
“I reviewed the minutes from your Nov. 10 meeting with the County Commissioners and there was very little mention of Route 90,” he said. “We have sent a letter and asked that it be included.”
For Ocean City officials, Route 90 should be moved ahead of the future replacement of the Route 50 Bridge, for example.
“We truly feel it far more prudent to complete the dualization of the entire Md. 90 corridor, from U.S. 50 to Md. 528 [Coastal Highway}, prior to replacement of the U.S. 50 bridge,” the letter reads. “With the right-of-way already in place, a major time consuming hurdle on such a project is a non-issue and should position the state to expedite the project.”
Meehan told Drewer and Baker on Tuesday the town’s position on the priorities for SHA projects in and around the resort is clear.
“One thing we’ve tried to instill is that Route 90 is our top priority right now,” said Meehan. “I thought we had made that clear. For us, it’s above the Route 50 Bridge, which we don’t think will be done for another 30 years.”
In other Route 90-related news, resort officials raised concerns about the deteriorating condition of the parapet, or jersey, walls along the Route 90 bridges in what has become an ongoing issue. The walls lining both sides of the spans have become unsightly and need to be either painted or power-washed, but Drewer said both options come with hefty price tags and complicated permitting processes.
“Out statewide policy has been to just let them go natural,” he said. “It’s just too expensive to paint them and cleaning them is difficult because we’d have to retain all of the water to prevent it from running into the bay.”
Drewer told resort officials he would continue to push for some sort of resolution to the problem.
“I hope to have a chance to convince the administration to look and see what it would take to make it look nicer at the entrance to one of the tourism capitals of Maryland,” he said. “I had some conversations about this with the previous administrator and she was receptive, but she left abruptly and now I have to start over with a new administrator. I’m not sure we’ll be able to afford it, but I haven’t given up on it.”