State To OC: Route 90 Project ‘On The Radar’

OCEAN CITY — Ocean City officials continue to push for a future dualization of Route 90, but it appears funding and the project’s position on the State Highway Administration (SHA) pecking order for Worcester County continues to be a challenge.

Last Tuesday, SHA officials briefed the Mayor and Council on a variety of projects in various stages of the planning pipeline in and around the resort area and inevitably the discussion came around to the proposed future dualization of Route 90. For years, Ocean City officials have expressed their desire to see Route 90 prioritized and be considered the county’s priority after Route 113’s dualization is completed.

Last year, the Mayor and Council sent a letter to SHA asking that Route 90 be moved up on the priority list for major highway projects in Worcester County. This summer, two simultaneous incidents essentially shut down both Route 50 and Route 90 at the same time, which served to emphasize the need to expedite the Route 90 dualization.

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.

With SHA District Engineer Donnie Drewer at last Tuesday’s meeting for a briefing on a number of projects planned in the resort area, including the median fence project along Coastal Highway that will get underway in January, the Mayor and Council did not waste the opportunity to continue to push for improvements to Route 90. Drewer said SHA was well aware of the city’s concerns, but there was still no firm timetable for the project.

“The only answer I can give you regarding Route 90 is that it is on the radar,” he said. “I know the mayor has pushed this on anyone who will listen including the governor and it hasn’t fallen on deaf ears. Your desires are fully known.”

For years, Route 113 dominated the state funding for highway projects in Worcester, but the near completion of that project has opened the door somewhat for other projects in the county, including Route 589, for example. Drewer said the lynchpin for Route 90 would continue to be the availability of funding.

“As far as funding goes, I’ve not heard anything about funding for this project yet,” he said. “We just need to keep pushing it forward and find somebody with the purse strings to do it.”

The County Commissioners ultimately set the priority list for SHA projects in Worcester and they met with SHA officials earlier this fall. Mayor Rick Meehan attended that meeting and continued to push for Route 90. On Tuesday, Meehan pushed Drewer what the resort had to do to move the project up the priority list.

“At the last meeting with the County Commissioners, what we were asking for is what the next step is,” he said. “What is it we need to do as a municipality? We realize there are quite a few steps in the process and want to know what steps we have to take to get there.”

Drewer said there were several options and the next step was determining the process.

“If you look at it, there are several different options we could take,” he said. “We could widen the existing bridge, build another bridge, we could dualize Route 90 the whole way. I think the next step is to figure out the funding and go from there.”

Councilman Dennis Dare said the pending administration change in Washington could lead to an unexpected funding source.

“I read this weekend where the president-elect has talked about infrastructure improvements to put people back to work in this country,” he said. “This is an ideal project in that the right-of-way is already there. It’s the kind of thing where you could do the design work and start digging with a quick turnaround. That’s something to keep in mind going forward because that could lead to a funding mechanism for this.”

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.