Council Updated On Median Fence Project

OCEAN CITY — The dune-style median fence project for Coastal Highway continues to move forward after State Highway Administration (SHA) officials this week provided the Mayor and Council with an update.

SHA District Engineer Donnie Drewer and Assistant District Engineer Dallas Baker on Tuesday briefed the Mayor and Council on a variety of projects in the resort including the dune-style median fence on Coastal Highway from Route 90 to Convention Center Drive. Earlier this year, the Mayor and Council approved the preliminary design for the aesthetically-pleasing fence in the median, which is expected to improve public safety in a known trouble spot by forcing pedestrians to cross the highway in the crosswalks at street ends and not dash across in between blocks.

The project, which will be designed, constructed and paid for by 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 fence down the center median mimicking the iconic fences along the dunes in Ocean City. Inevitably, the fence will be damaged by accidents or other incidents, but Drewer said SHA will have plenty of back-ups available.

“The fence panels will be labeled so they are easier to replace if they are damaged or destroyed,” he said. “We will have back-up sections available if and when that happens.”

So far, the project appears to be on track for completion by the start of next season. However, as with every major project, there are unanticipated delays. The project includes a comprehensive lighting plan for the entire stretch down the center median, improving visibility along the section. Drewer said there have been some early issues with the lighting plan, but they aren’t expected to tamper with the ambitious timetable.

“The lighting design has been delayed somewhat because of contract issue, but that is being resolved,” he said. “We’re on track for a final review in July and will go out to bid shortly after that. Hopefully, it will go into the construction phase after the first of the year and be ready before the start of next season.”

More important than the aesthetics of the project are the public safety aspects of the project and Mayor Rick Meehan suggested some signage along the fence to improve that.

“Any thought given to putting arrows on the fence pointing to the crosswalks in either direction?” he said. “When you have long lengths of fence, sometimes there is an opportunity for more public safety signage. Educating the public is difficult and that could help.”

Meehan urged SHA officials to consider including signage in the final design.

“The fence is going to be there for a reason,” he said. “Anything we can do to get the word out will be helpful. Whatever we do, we’ll run into unanticipated problems.”

Baker said the plan already includes appropriate signage directing pedestrians to the marked crosswalks at intersections.

“Signs will be placed at every non-signalized cross street,” he said. “Everything will be covered from Route 90 south.”

Meanwhile, also on Tuesday Councilmember Mary Knight pressed SHA officials on the need for an improved crossing of Philadelphia Avenue at the foot of the Route 50 bridge between the 7-Eleven convenience store on the east side and the Shell station on the west side. Knight said it has become a trouble spot for pedestrian crossings and just this week she stopped and rolled down her windows to warn young people who had dashed across about the dangers.

Baker said SHA was aware of the pedestrian issues in that area, but there is no real intersection for traffic heading across the Route 50 Bridge below the last light at 1st Street.

“We’re going to do a study there to see if that area warrants a pedestrian signal,” 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.