Median Fence Design Tweaked; Project To Cost $5.2M

OCEAN CITY — The dune-style median fence project continues to advance with some tweaks in the final design revealed this week along with the $5.2 million price tag for the first phase.

During Tuesday’s Transportation Committee meeting, Public Works Director Hal Adkins briefed members on the progress of the dune-style fence down the center of the median on Coastal Highway from Route 90 to Convention Center Drive. In January, the Mayor and Council approved the preliminary design for the aesthetically appealing dune-style fence in the median, which is expected to improve safety in a known trouble area by forcing pedestrians to cross the highway in the crosswalks at street ends and not dash in between blocks.

In the months since the design was approved, the dune-style median fence has elicited a wide range of responses from the public largely through social media. The responses have ranged from approval of the design unique to Ocean City to disdain for the concept in general and the final design specifically. Some have said those hell bent on crossing Coastal Highway mid-block will do so anyway and won’t be deterred by the fence, creating even more pedestrian safety issues.

Adkins said the project, which will be designed, constructed and paid for by the State Highway Administration (SHA), will cost an estimated $5.2 million, of which roughly $1.6 million will pay for the fencing alone. The design features an undulating dune-style fence down the center median mimicking the iconic fences along the dunes in Ocean City.

From the beginning, resort officials have been very involved in the design process for a project that will almost certainly change the look and the dynamics along resort’s main thoroughfare. Adkins said the existing brick and landscaped median will be completely replaced with the new median fence and appropriate landscaping.

“They are going to gut the entire island system,” he said. “The plan is to leave just the existing curbing and build it back up from the ground up.”

Last month, the Transportation Committee voiced concern about the crossovers in the existing median. The current landscaped median has crossovers, or breaks, at intervals, to allow fire, police and emergency services to cross at mid-block when necessary. However, after determining the crossovers were seldom used and served more as an invitation for pedestrians to cross mid-block, the Mayor and Council sent a letter to SHA asking that they be eliminated in the final design. SHA agreed and the crossovers will not be included in the new median design.

Resort officials also voiced concern about the positioning of the vertical slats in the dune-style median fence. The intent is to have a somewhat open look that will allow motorists and pedestrians to see businesses and attractions on the opposite side while providing an effective barrier for mid-block crossings. However, concerns were raised about the glare of headlights coming from the opposite direction being a distraction for drivers. Adkins said on Tuesday the fence will be painted with a matte finish to reduce the glare and the slats will be positioned to eliminate a lot of headlight concerns from the opposite direction. In addition, Adkins said SHA has been working with the Recreation and Parks Department on the appropriate landscaping along the median.

“It was determined the species they selected would never survive, so they worked with Rec and Parks and Gary Collier to change the vegetation to something that would survive along the highway,” he said.

City Engineer Terry McGean said he was successful in getting SHA to add electrical conduits into the median’s final design. The electric conduits will placed at intervals and all for future installation of fiber optics, holiday decorations or various other uses.

There were also concerns raised about the design of the turn lanes and the stacking issues that currently occur on the heaviest traffic days. Adkins said in many spots the turn lanes have been extended to help eliminate the stacking problem.

Even with the various tweaks and changes, SHA is moving forward with its ambitious timeline for the project, which is expected to be completed by the start of the 2017 season.

“It’s not funded for construction yet, but they are not wavering from the schedule,” said Adkins. “The plan is to start right after summer and the first phase is expected to be completed by the spring of 2017.”

The first phase will run from Route 90 to Convention Center Drive. The second phase is proposed for Convention Center Drive south to around 26th Street, with a third phase running from 26th to 9th streets. After those phases, the plan is to start working north from Route 90 to the Delaware line.

Adkins said the hope was to keep the momentum going with one phase being completed while the next phase is being designed. OCPD Captain Kevin Kirstein said the decision to work south was the right one.

“Based on the number of accidents and the statistics, heading south with the next phases is the way to go,” he said.

About The Author: Shawn Soper

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Shawn Soper has been with The Dispatch since 2000. He began as a staff writer covering various local government beats and general stories. His current positions include managing editor and sports editor. Growing up in Baltimore before moving to Ocean City full time three decades ago, Soper graduated from Loch Raven High School in 1981 and from Towson University in 1985 with degrees in mass communications with a journalism concentration and history.