OCEAN CITY — The future dualization of Route 90 remains a possibility, but it now appears the path to get the project approved could be a little rockier.
On Tuesday, State Highway Administration (SHA) officials briefed the Mayor and Council on a variety of projects in various stages of the planning or completion process in and around the resort area and, inevitably, the discussion came around to the proposed future dualization of Route 90. For years, Ocean City officials have expressed a desire for Route 90 improvements including expanding the highway and its bridges from the current two lanes to four to ease access in and out of the resort for the public, and perhaps more importantly emergency services including fire apparatus and ambulances, for example.
Formal letters have been written to SHA expressing the town’s desire to have Route 90 moved up the priority list for Worcester County. Heretofore, SHA has been the agency with which Ocean City has made multiple formal and informal requests for improvements to Route 90.
While that hasn’t changed entirely, there is now a new system in place for determining the pecking order for highway projects around the state and it involves the Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT). SHA District Engineer Jay Meredith and his staff again listened patiently to the Mayor and Council’s questions about the future of Route 90 on Tuesday, but it appears MDOT is now in charge of establishing priorities and funding for state highway projects.
“There is a new SHA policy that honestly we’re becoming familiar with ourselves,” said Meredith. “MDOT does have a new process. We would like to have you reach out to MDOT and find out just what their guidelines area. You’ll have to coordinate that with the county obviously.”
While aware of the changes in state highway project policies, the town’s elected officials were taken aback somewhat by the notion they might have to start over with MDOT after working closely with SHA on Route 90 in recent years. Councilman Matt James essentially said it felt like the town had the rug pulled out from under it in terms of Route 90.
“So, over the years we’ve been discussing this with you and we finally start talking about this and you push us over to MDOT?” he said. “I remember we’ve had conversations with you about this.”
Meredith explained the issue was complicated and had something to do with state legislation on state highway project funding and the priority lists determined by the counties.
“There has been new legislation and the law dictates what we have to do,” he said. “You remember the road kill bill and all of the controversy that was going on and this is tied into that process. There’s a ranking system now to determine worthiness and there are several factors. One is the county, which will play a large role in that.
Councilman Dennis Dare said there could be things Worcester County and Ocean City could be doing to expedite the process for Route 90. He said those moves wouldn’t be known until town officials had discussed the issues with MDOT.
“From what I gather, it’s possible the county or the city can initiate some of the first phases of this to facilitate the process,” he said. “It would be worth exploring what can be done to facilitate it.”
Meredith assured town officials the change in the process did not mean Route 90 would not eventually be improved, but said the process had become more complicated.
“In no way are we suggesting that it’s not going to happen,” he said. “That’s not the case whatsoever. It’s just a little different process used to determine what projects get funded. We always have to compete for funding and that’s what we’ll continue to do.”