Route 90 Sinkhole Renews Route 90 Dualization Push

OCEAN CITY — One day after a fatal accident on Route 50 and a sinkhole on Route 90 simultaneously closed portions of the two major gateways to the resort, Mayor Rick Meehan on Monday made a continued push to make a future dualization of Route 90 a top priority.

On Sunday, a fatal accident on Route 50 at Route 589 shut down the major route into Ocean City from around 8 a.m. to roughly 11:30 a.m. Around 11 a.m., a sinkhole was discovered on Route 90 that completely closed the westbound lanes on that major artery until about 2:30 p.m. on a busy Sunday in late July. Essentially, the separate incidents overlapped to the point both major arteries were experiencing significant lane closures at the same time.

The sinkhole opened on the Route 90 Bridge over the Assawoman Bay near its approach to Ocean City. State Highway Administration (SHA) crews were on hand shortly thereafter and set up a flagging operation, directing one lane traffic in the area. Crews from SHA’s maintenance shop in Snow Hill arrived a short time later and temporarily patched the hole, which was roughly three feet by six feet, with a steel plate.

The flagging operation remained in place from roughly 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., snarling traffic along one of the main access points for the resort. SHA officials said on Monday the sinkhole was caused by a partial washout in the substructure under the bridge due to heavy rain experienced.

At the close of Monday’s meeting, Meehan revisited the issue of pushing for the dualization of Route 90 in the wake of Sunday’s sinkhole. In June, resort officials urged SHA to consider moving the dualization of Route 90 further up the priority list and after Sunday’s sinkhole closed portions of the roadway for several hours, Meehan was prepared to continue that effort.

“It’s been a priority issue with us and we need to be consistent in making our request and it has to do with dualizing Route 90,” he said. “When you look at the events that occurred yesterday, if you look at those time periods, there was half an hour when there were lanes on both Route 50 and Route 90 that were closed at the same time. When you look at all of the people that come in and out of Ocean City, that’s a tremendous problem.”

Ironically, as Meehan was making his pitch for a renewed effort to widen Route 90 to four lanes, a similar scenario was unfolding at the Route 50 Bridge just blocks away from City Hall. Downtown flooding from Monday afternoon’s severe storm, coupled with a significant accident at the foot of the bridge and damage to the drop-down gates on the drawbridge caused by the tornado snarled traffic in both directions on Route 50.

Meehan said not only are the frequent issues on Route 90 causing problems for the daily flow of traffic into and out of Ocean City, but they are creating potentially tragic situations for first-responders.

“It’s also a very big problem for our emergency vehicles,” he said. “When we transport somebody in an ambulance out of Ocean City to AGH or Salisbury, those are the two routes they take. This is causing delays and potentially stopping emergency vehicles from going out of Ocean City and in some cases returning to Ocean City, which is just as important so we have those vehicles in town in case there is an emergency.”

Meehan pointed out there have been multiple incidents of sinkholes on Route 90 in recent years, coupled with occasional construction projects that have caused lane closures and delays. Expanding Route 90 to more than one lane in each direction could prevent serious closures in the event of an emergency in the future, he added.

“I think it puts a re-emphasis on the fact that if there is an emergency — a tornado or a hurricane, which are events that do take place here — it can close down major portions of the arteries that allow vehicular traffic to exit Ocean City and also return. I think it’s something we’ve seen happen more and more with the volume of traffic on those roadways.”

Meehan said the issue is not a uniquely Ocean City problem.

“We’ve written letters and asked our County Commissioners that this be a priority,” he said. “It affects not just Ocean City, but it affects Ocean Pines and it affects West Ocean City. It’s a regional issue and I think it’s something we need to keep a priority.”

Meehan said he wanted to continue to push SHA and state officials to move Route 90 further up the priority list for Worcester County.

“With the council’s permission, I’m going to write a letter to follow up because I think we need to be consistent,” he said. “I think we need to write to our state delegates and representatives and the governor and let them know what this problem is.”

The mayor pointed to the dualization of Route 113, which has been ongoing for decades, as reason to move Route 90 further up the list. There were numerous fatal accidents on that two-laned highway before a funding commitment was made after years of citizen advocacy.

“We don’t want to someday face the same situation we faced on Route 113,” he said. “We want to prevent that, and the best way to prevent something from happening is to correct this sometime in the near future. I think we need to continue to remind people just how important this is to Ocean City and let’s make sure our roadways are passable and can handle the proper volume of traffic at all times.”

By Monday morning, SHA’s private sector contractor, Covington Machine and Welding of Annapolis, was on its way to repair the sinkhole. Covington crews used rock and other fill, essentially concrete grout, to address the washout. SHA crews were working under a flagging operation on that section of the Route 90 Bridge nearest Ocean City on Monday until the repair was completed. On Tuesday, SHA engineers inspected the repair job and the steel plate was removed.

The Route 90 approach to Ocean City, which is essentially two bridges including one span over the St. Martin’s River and a second over the Assawoman Bay, has seen more than a few similar washouts and associated sinkholes in recent years. The last occurred on the section over the St. Martin’s River in January. The section over the Assawoman Bay suffered a significant washout during Hurricane Sandy and the area is noticeable as a large concrete slab looks out of place on the road’s surface.

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.