OCEAN CITY — After resort officials were blindsided somewhat last summer by a State Highway Administration plan to repave and replace sidewalks along Baltimore Avenue before the town moved forward with a major redesign of the corridor, SHA officials this week said they would stand back until the town is ready.
For the last year or so, SHA contractors have been systematically replacing the sidewalks throughout Ocean City to bring them into Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliance. In June, SHA officials told the town a next phase of that project tentatively scheduled for this fall would begin tackling the sidewalks along the Baltimore Avenue corridor.
Resort officials were somewhat blindsided by that announcement because the town was ready to embark on a major rehabilitation of the Baltimore Avenue corridor from North Division Street to 15th Street, including the undergrounding of utilities, the removal of unsightly poles and other aesthetic improvements. If SHA had moved forward to repave Baltimore Avenue and retrofit the sidewalks as planned this year, the major rehabilitation of the corridor would have to be put on hold, perhaps for years. However, SHA Assistant District Engineer Brett Deane on Wednesday eased the Mayor and Council’s concerns about the SHA project interfering with the proposed redesign of Baltimore Avenue.
“The Baltimore Avenue section is on hold per your request,” he said. “While the town looks at a master plan for that corridor, we will not do anything. We won’t do anything until we hear from you and get the go-ahead.”
Ocean City officials were about to embark on the planning process for the streetscape improvements on Baltimore Avenue, which have been under consideration for years. The first step would be a design charrette wherein city officials and other stakeholders would brainstorm and begin the planning process.
Baltimore Avenue is somewhat unique in a variety of ways. For example, the original deeds show the right-of-way as 75 feet wide, but the current roadway only utilizes about 45 feet from curb to curb. Includes in the cursory discussion of the streetscape plans was a review of the ancient deeds for Baltimore Avenue that create a no man’s land of about 30 feet in some areas that could ultimately be deeded back to the property owners along the corridor or used to widen the roadway and its sidewalks.
With assurances SHA will wait for the town to complete its redesign of Baltimore Avenue, that process can now begin in earnest. In the meantime, SHA will continue to retrofit the sidewalks in other areas of town to ensure they are ADA compliant. Deane said all of the sidewalks from 30th Street to the Delaware line have been completed. The plan is to finish the area from 30th Street to 16th Street this year, with 16th Street to the Inlet completed in out years.
Meanwhile, the discussion turned to the handling of some of the sidewalk improvement at intersections in town. Deane said even if a section of state roadway is scheduled for repaving, SHA will retrofit the sidewalks at the same time when possible.
“Anytime we repave, we do at least the corners,” he said. “If it is already ADA compliant, we’re not redoing them. We’re not in the business of wasting taxpayer money.”
During the discussion, several pictures of sidewalks and corners at intersections were presented. In most cases, the curb is sloped down the road surface and covered with a detectable warning surface for those who are visually impaired. In some cases, however, utility poles, other obstacles and even raised curbs exist in the retrofitted sidewalks at intersections, creating a potential safety hazard.
“They aren’t ideal,” said Deane. “We have federal mandates we have to follow. There is no one size fits all for these intersections. We’re going to look at each intersection individually. We want to see what is the best and safest design that meets the ADA mandates.”
However, Mayor Rick Meehan urged SHA to work around the obstacles and remove them where possible to ensure pedestrian safety for the disabled.
“It defies logic to put a tripping hazard out there,” he said. “Sometimes, common sense has to prevail. We all recognize it’s a problem. We’re just not able to utilize what would be practical solutions.”
Public Works Director Hal Adkins said there was no perfect plan that can eliminate all of the obstacles in the sidewalks and street corners.
“That was never the intent,” he said. “We just want to make sure we can get safe intersections that meet the ADA mandates while limiting our liability.”
Deane said there is one solution to consider, but it might only exacerbate the problem.
“A practical solution would be to install the detectable warning surfaces in all areas,” he said. “The problem with that is someone who is visually impaired could walk right out into an intersection.”