At last week’s Ocean City Mayor and Council meeting, Worcester County Commissioner Joe Mitrecic, a former city councilman, provided his quarterly update for his former colleagues. One of the takeaways was word the county “has come around and will endorse the dualization of Route 90,” according to Mitrecic.
That certainly doesn’t mean the project will happen next year or even 10 years from now. It will realistically be multiple decades before we see a four-lane divided Route 90 entrance to Ocean City.
The county has listed Route 90 on its state transportation priority list for many years. In fact, a 2015 letter from the state says, “the Commissioners wish to express their support for the following additional projects, in no particular order: improvements to Route 589, …; replacement of the Harry W. Kelly Memorial Bridge on Route 50 …; the complete dualization of Maryland Route 90 …; and the Market Street Streetscape Project in Snow Hill.”
Staff recommended at a meeting this month the county essentially issue the same letter removing the Snow Hill project. There was no public discussion at that meeting about the priority list. That’s probably because the letter is just a formality and means little in the overall process in light of recent law changes on transportation projects.
Nonetheless, despite the letter’s lingo not expected to change, Mitrecic told the council the commissioners have agreed internally to prioritize Route 90 dualization higher than they have in the past. He said finishing up the funded Route 113 work is the top priority followed by the Route 50 Bridge replacement and Routes 90 and 589 at the same time. “This represents a change. They didn’t want to go down that road before, but we are now. We are going to put that in our prioritization letter to the state,” he said last week.
In her day in office, former Worcester County Commissioner Louise Gulyas always maintained Route 90 should be a higher priority for the county and state. Back in the early-2000s, she was advocating for backburning the Route 50 Bridge project because she said it would never be done in her lifetime due to funding and a variety of property and political variables on and off the island. It turns out she was right.
We agree Route 90 dualization should leapfrog the Route 50 Bridge project in importance, but the county doesn’t see it that way. Nonetheless, it’s good news to hear there has been a change of thought among the commissioners with Route 90 because a key variable here is funding.
The state now requires counties to follow a new scoring system for all capital projects in excess of $5 million. Documents must be submitted through an online portal and be substantiated with a feasibility study, detailed cost estimates and a variety of checklists. That essentially means a lot more funding will be required at the local level before the state will even consider a project. That is a result of the Maryland General Assembly changing state law in 2017.
This new process underscores the reason even further why Route 90 dualization should be ranked ahead of a new bridge on Route 50 on the priority list. Replacing the Route 50 bridge will require a lengthy closure of the most popular entrance to Ocean City, pushing all that traffic to Route 90 during the warm months. In the summer, Route 90 can’t handle the traffic it gets already.
Additionally, major concerns for emergency service transportation need to be taken into consideration as well when ranking these projects. When daily emergencies are coupled with potential weather evacuations, it’s common sense to us the Route 90 dualization should be prioritized over the Route 50 Bridge replacement.