OCEAN CITY — Ocean City continues to push for moving the future dualization of Route 90 further up the county’s priority list of State Highway Administration (SHA) projects, but improvements to the corridor appear to lag behind in the state’s 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. 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, for example, but it remains mired behind other major highway projects in Worcester County, most notably Route 113. For the last two decades or so, the state has been dualizing Route 113 from the Delaware line to south of Snow Hill in a somewhat piecemeal fashion due largely to funding issues.
However, state funding for the final section was approved late last year, causing SHA to begin revisiting the priority list for major projects in Worcester including Routes 50, 90 and 589, for example. Late last year, the Mayor and Council sent a letter to the new SHA administration asking that Route 90 be moved up. On Tuesday, town officials pressed SHA District Engineer Donnie Drewer on the status of the future project.
“Where that stands I don’t know,” Drewer said. “I know what your stance is. I haven’t heard any movement on that.”
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.
Drewer said the priority list is based largely on funding availability, and while SHA realizes the importance of the eventual dualization of Route 90, it could fall behind others in the state’s pecking order.
“I’m pretty sure State Highway recognizes it’s a viable project,” he said. “The Route 50 replacement is already on the burner. Route 113 is fully funded and that was the number one priority, so now we can look at other options. With Route 50, Route 90 and Route 589, you can see there is a whole list of things to do in Worcester County.”
Mayor Rick Meehan said the town realizes the eventual replacement of the Route 50 Bridge is likely decades away despite being further ahead in the planning design process than others in the county, but pressed Drewer on possibly leap-frogging the Route 90 project.
“In the interim, we would like to see Route 90 done,” he said. “Is it on State Highway’s radar as an acceptable project?”
Even though the Mayor and Council sent the letter to SHA late last year, Meehan said it could be time for a face-to-face with the higher-ups including the new secretary and administrator.
“At some point, it’s going to need some maintenance and probably sooner rather than later,” he said. “We feel it’s very important from a transportation standpoint, but also from a public safety standpoint. If State Highway doesn’t feel the same way, we like to have an honest dialogue. We might have to have that discussion because it’s important for our future.”
Councilman Dennis Dare said when it comes to discussing Route 90, most believe its importance relies on the evacuation plan in the event of a hurricane or other disaster, and while that is true to a large degree, there are other more pressing concerns. He said advanced storm forecasting these days often allows for a methodical and orderly evacuation over an extended period of time.
“When people ask why widen Route 90, the answer is usually if there is a hurricane, we know we have four days to get people out of Ocean City, so that’s not just it,” he said. “We’ve had incidents in the last year or so that drive the need to do this. Repairs to the concrete bridge are needed. When you close Route 90, it’s not like Route 50 where you can close just one lane at a time and keep the traffic flowing. … Every ambulance call becomes a longer run. It’s a public safety issue. It’s inherently dangerous.”
Dare said a closure of Route 90 for emergency repairs could cripple the resort, which is a major fiscal contributor to the state.
“If Route 90 had to be closed, that’s a disaster the magnitude of a hurricane,” he said. “Yes, it would be tough on Ocean City, but it would also be tough on the comptroller’s office because he has a book on his shelf that shows just how much tax revenue comes to the state from Ocean City.”