Median Fence Project’s Lighting Component Discussed

Median Fence Project’s Lighting Component Discussed
The ongoing median fence project is pictured near 48th Street last weekend. Photo by Chris Parypa

OCEAN CITY — It’s no secret the ongoing dune-style median fence project has added a lot of new light poles to Coastal Highway, but there is a method to the apparent madness.

The State Highway Administration (SHA) and its private contractors continue work this week on the median project down the center of Coastal Highway from the Roland E. Powell Convention Center to the Route 90 bridge. The project will ultimately include a dune-style fence, improved overhead lighting in the median and other public safety features. However, it has been the installation of dozens of tall light towers down the center median with arms of varying lengths that have caught the public attention the most in recent weeks.

While the new overhead LED system will ultimately improve lighting along the section of Coastal Highway in the project area, causing a wide, well-lit beam of bright light from sidewalk to sidewalk, many have voiced concerns about the apparent pole clutter. During a budget work session last week, resort officials debated the aesthetics of the tall poles with staggered arms in the center median and their public safety benefit.

“I have to say it certainly looks like it will adequately light Coastal Highway,” said Councilman Dennis Dare. “It’s going to improve traffic safety and pedestrian safety when it’s all said and done.”

The plan from the beginning has been to install the state-of-the-art median lighting system and ultimately turn off and remove the old cobra-head-style street lights mounted to poles over the sidewalks along Coastal Highway.

“The other part of it is we can take the existing cobra-head lights on utility poles and turn those off,” Dare said. “At one time, we estimated the cost of running those cobra-head lights at $30,000. That’s a potential decrease in this budget, but we want to make sure the lighting is sufficient.”

Councilman Wayne Hartman said he hoped the plan included testing the new lighting system before getting rid of the old cobra-heads over the sidewalks.

“I thought we said when the new lights are installed, we would turn off the old lights to see how it looked before making a decision,” he said. “When will that take place?”

Deputy Public Works Director Woody Vickers said the overall median fence project was moving along and the new lighting system could be checked sooner rather than later.

“Right now, SHA is planning on finishing the project by Memorial Day,” he said. “The lights might come on sooner. As you have all seen, they are installing the lighting now. When they are finished, I think we’ll make a cooperative decision and we can then talk about shutting those older lights off or at least spacing them to every other one or something like that.”

Vickers said no decision would be made until it was determined certain highway lighting standards were met, but was confident the new system would be more than adequate.


Photo by Chris Parypa

“We can also do lumen tests before and after and make sure the standard is met,” he said. “If you look at them, it’s a lot of lights so I don’t think there is any concern.”

Questions were raised about the staggered lengths of the lighting arms in the project area, which appears on the surface to contribute to the apparent pole clutter, but Vickers explained they were designed that way for a reason.

“The long ones light the travel lanes and the shorter ones light the turn lanes and make sure the pedestrian crossings are well-lit,” he said. “They are staggered when you look at them. The poles are in a straight line, but the arms are staggered.”

Dare said the estimated savings realized by removing the old cobra-head lights was just for the project’s first phase.

“That $30,000 estimate is just for that project area,” he said. “Citywide, we spend a half a million dollars on lighting. Coastal Highway alone is about $150,000. If the project continues as planned, the savings could be even bigger.”


Photo by Chris Parypa

Vickers said there had been discussions in the past about upgrading the existing cobra-heads along the sidewalks, but the technology had not been available.”

“We talked with Delmarva Power about LED lighting for the entire highway, but at that time they didn’t have an LED cobra-head that met the standard,” he said. “They now do and the city engineer is doing a study on that. Delmarva Power could do a certain number each year, or they could be done all at once with a higher cost. That could be a big savings for us in the future.”

Councilman Tony DeLuca went back to the discussion on the plan for turning on the new lights and turning off the old ones.

“We’re going to leave all of the lights on and look at it,” he said. “Then, we’re going to turn off the ones on the sidewalk and look at it again before making a decision. I think that’s what we asked for at the outset of this project.”

Vickers said there would be ample time to explore the possibilities.

“We have to coordinate that and we’ll let you know in advance when that is happening,” he said. “We might have to do it for a couple of days or a week. We’ll do a comprehensive light study.”

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.