OCEAN CITY — The Ocean City Mayor and Council learned this week the median fence for a section of Coastal Highway will not be completed before summer as originally planned after the lone bid for the project came in higher than anticipated.
Last 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 a continued effort by the State Highway Administration (SHA) to improve pedestrian safety along the corridor. The median fence is expected to improve public safety by forcing pedestrians to cross the highway at marked crosswalks at street ends and not dash across in between blocks.
The project is being designed, constructed and paid for by SHA with a budget of around $4.5 million for the initial phase. The design features an undulating fence down the center median mimicking the iconic fences along the dunes in Ocean City complete with the appropriate landscaping to help complete the illusion.
However, when SHA put the project’s first phase out to bid this fall, it received only one single bid, which came in significantly higher than what was budgeted. Public Works Director Hal Adkins said he learned of the potential financial setback last week when he visited long-time SHA District Engineer Donnie Drewer, who is retiring after roughly five decades. Adkins said what was intended as a social call turned serious when it was learned the project’s one bid did not fit into SHA’s plan for the project.
“They only received one bid and it came in substantially higher than the projected $4.5 million for this phase,” he said. “The lone bid came in at around 30 to 40 percent over budget and as you can imagine, it was rejected.”
With a budget of around $4.5 million, a lone bid 30 to 40 percent higher would move the project closer to the $6 million mark. Adkins said SHA would likely go back to the drawing board and solicit new bids, which would move the proposed timetable back beyond the start of the summer season.
“We’ve come to the realization that the window for construction in time for this summer season is too short,” he said. “There is just no way to get this done this spring now.”
Adkins said a new bidding process would move the entire project back beyond the 2017 summer season.
“The reality is, I see them regrouping after that initial bid and rebidding the project this spring,” he said. “There are long lead times for certain elements including the custom fence and the lighting, for example, and they could be manufactured in the spring and be ready for construction next year.”
Adkins said if the second bid process was successful, a notice to proceed with the construction phase could come as soon as next fall with a completion date sometime next spring in advance of the summer season.
“Is it slightly disappointing? Yes,” he said. “The reality is, it’s already January and the window for getting it done for this spring was already tightening. I don’t think anybody wants to see work on this in the summer months and nobody wants it paused.”
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.
A third phase would run from 26th Street south to 9th Street. After that, the plan is to start working north from Route 90 to the Delaware line. Of course, funding issues will likely determine the timetable for future phases, but resort officials have repeatedly asked SHA to find a way to keep the momentum going after the first phase is complete.
Councilman Dennis Dare said the setback was disheartening and held out hope the project could be expanded and the momentum continued once the bidding issues were sorted out.
“It’s certainly disappointing, but it’s certainly understandable given how high the bid was,” he said. “That means the next phase would be pushed back. Was there any talk of extending the project further once it gets started?”
Adkins said he would pitch that idea to SHA officials. In the meantime, it appears the median fence project could be ready to proceed in time to piggyback on another major SHA project in the resort planned for next offseason.
“They are projected to repave Coastal Highway during the same period,” he said. “That could allow them to capture both projects at the same time.”