OCEAN CITY — While it currently resembles a war zone, the median fence and enhanced lighting project on Coastal Highway remains on target for a completion before Memorial Day weekend, State Highway Administration (SHA) officials reported this week.
SHA and its private contractors continued work on the median project from the convention center to Route 90 this week, and while to many it appears the project is not moving along as quickly as some would like, it is coming together as planned. With the calendar flipping to May this week and vastly improving weather, the midtown project is snarling increased traffic with a maze of orange barrels, flashing signs and milled and unpaved road surfaces, but SHA officials this week assured the council the final product would be delivered by Memorial Day weekend as promised.
“We’re still on track for Memorial Day,” said SHA Assistant District Manager-Construction Brett Deane. “We’re going to move heaven and earth if we have to, but we’re going to get it done.”
Many residents and visitors have voiced concern with the milled and unpaved roadway surface in the project area, but there are steps in the process and paving will begin shortly, Deane told the Mayor and Council on Tuesday.
“The paving will start Monday,” he said. “As you know, we don’t do any paving on the weekend, especially this weekend with Springfest. If we have to work long hours and work nights, we’re going to get it done.”
City officials referenced an abundance of phone calls, emails and social network posts about the project, from its aesthetic appearance to the inconvenience and frustration with the unpaved section of highway, but SHA officials urged the public to hold passing judgment on the project until it is completed.
“The reason we’re doing this is to save lives,” said Meredith. “All we ask is that people don’t pass judgment until they see the finished product.”
While the new overhead LED lighting system is expected to vastly improve vehicle and pedestrian safety in the project area, which was chosen as the pilot area because of its history of pedestrian-vehicle collisions, many have complained about the apparent pole clutter down the center median. The new system is expected the cast a wide, well-lit beam of light from sidewalk to sidewalk, necessitating the removal of the existing cobra-head lights mounted to utility poles along the sidewalks and, thereby, reducing the perceived pole clutter.
It has been the town’s understanding all along that the new lights in the median would be turned on, along with the existing lights on the sidewalks, to determine which, if any, of the old cobra-heads can be removed. However, Meredith said SHA will activate its new median lighting system and the future of the old cobra-heads do not fall under the state agency’s purview. In any case, Meredith assured the finished product would produce the desired lighting along the corridor.
“We’ll work through it,” he said. “Once the project is done, we don’t think you’ll need any of that lighting on the sidewalks. We’re confident you’re going to be happy with it.”
Councilman Dennis Dare said the existing cobra-head lights along the sidewalks were put in place years ago wherever a utility pole was already in place, which accounts for the somewhat randomness of the lights. For example, under the current lighting system, there are some gaps, or darker areas, where poles were not in place when the lights were installed. Dare said the new LED median light system SHA is installing is engineered to provide steady, bright light along the entire corridor.
“There’s a very good chance when the new lights are energized, the old lights might be tricked into believing it is daylight and won’t trip on,” he said.
Meredith said any future proposed sections would depend on the relative success of the pilot section. The stated long-range plan is to do the next section south to 9th Street, then begin working north to the Delaware line in out years. However, Meredith said there was no immediate plan to begin designing and engineering the next section.
“We’ll see what type of feedback we get and see the effectiveness of it,” he said. “We’re not committed to doing any other sections without all of the information.”
SHA Assistant District Engineer-Traffic Jana Potvin said the results of the first phase will determine the future of any other phases in out years. However, the history of the current section, which is why it was chosen in the first place, provides some existing data.
“We have a lot of baseline data,” she said. “We’re going to be using the crash data and the pedestrian data to make a future determination. In many cases, it takes three years of data to make a determination on the effectiveness of a project.”
The council was somewhat taken aback by the notion it might be three years before SHA made a decision on future phases of the median fence project. The presumed plan all along has been the next phase would begin next year and keep the momentum going until the entire corridor was completed. However, Meredith allayed some of those concerns.
“Typically, it takes three years of data to determine if there is improvement,” he said. “In this case, we think after one season we’ll know.”