Coastal Highway Median Fence Effort Slowed By High Bids

OCEAN CITY — It remains uncertain if the dune-style median fence project for Coastal Highway is still on track for a Memorial Day completion date, but it appears potential funding issues have sent State Highway Administration (SHA) officials back to the drawing board somewhat.

Earlier this year, the Mayor and Council approved the implementation of a dune-style median fence down the center of Coastal Highway from Route 90 to the Convention Center as part of SHA’s continued efforts to improve pedestrian safety along the corridor. The median fence is expected to improve public safety in the known trouble spot section by forcing pedestrians to cross the highway at the marked crosswalks at street ends and not dash across in between blocks.

The project, which is being 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 with the appropriate landscaping to complete the illusion.

From the beginning, the target completion date for the first phase of the project was Memorial Day weekend of 2017 and that still appears to be attainable. However, it now seems budget issues could force SHA officials to go back to the drawing board. SHA spokesman Charlie Gischlar said this week the project bids were opened on Dec. 15 and they exceeded what was anticipated for the most part.

“The bids came in significantly higher than expected,” he said. “When this happens, we do a thorough analysis of all the details and review options. Right now, it is in the procurement process.”

During a briefing with the Mayor and Council in November in advance of the project going out to bid, SHA District Engineer Donnie Drewer said the target completion date for the first phase was set for May 17, but essentially promised it would be wrapped up before Memorial Day weekend. After the bids came in significantly higher two weeks ago, it’s uncertain what affect that might have on the timeline, but with the calendar flipping over to 2017 this weekend, the project is certainly time-sensitive.

The dune-style median fence is just one aspect of the overall plan to improve pedestrian safety along the section of Coastal Highway. Also included in the project is a comprehensive lighting plan for that entire stretch of highway, improving visibility for both pedestrians and motorists.

The initial phase focuses on the section between Route 90 and the Convention Center, which has historically seen the most vehicle-pedestrian collisions. The long-term plan is to construct the median fence from one end of the town to the other. The second phase is tentatively proposed for the section from the Convention Center south to around 26th Street.

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.