Route 90 Vehicle Fire Snarls Traffic

OCEAN CITY — A vehicle fire on the Route 90 bridge last Sunday closed a access point to the resort in both directions, highlighting the need to move the dualization of the span higher up on the priority list, according to resort officials.

Around 2:20 p.m. last Sunday, the Ocean City Police Department (OCPD) and the Ocean City Fire Department were dispatched to the Route 90 bridge for a reported vehicle fire about halfway across the first span leading out of the resort. Westbound traffic was halted immediately by the vehicle fire, and eastbound traffic was completely halted a short time later.

Firefighters were able to quickly extinguish the vehicle fire by around 2:30 p.m. Eastbound traffic opened again around 3 p.m., or about 40 minutes after the initial call, while the westbound lanes were opened around 3:30 p.m., or over an hour after the initial call as crews worked to clear the scene and ensure the safety of the roadway. No injuries were reported.

Last Sunday’s vehicle fire and subsequent complete closure of the Route 90 bridge served as an example of what city officials feared as the continue to push for the dualization of one of the main access points to Ocean City. For years, Ocean City officials have expressed a desire for Route 90 improvements including expanding the highway and its bridges from the existing two lanes to four lanes.

The hope is 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. Following last Sunday’s vehicle fire that closed the bridge, Mayor Rick Meehan said this week the incident reconfirmed the town’s fears about the span in its current configuration.

“Last weekend was a clear example of how one accident can close the roadway in both directions, completely shutting off access to Ocean City for our residents, visitors and emergency responders,” he said. “Whether it’s a traffic collision or an evacuation, the unsafe condition that is created by the loss of the roadway needs to be addressed.”

Meehan said the town’s urging of the State Highway Administration (SHA) to move Route 90 improvements further up Worcester County’s priority list for state-funded highway projects has no other motivation then public safety.

“For the last several years, the council has expressed a desire for the dualization of Route 90,” he said. “This desire has never stemmed from anything other than a concern for the safety of those trying to enter or exit Ocean City.”

While it certainly created headaches for hundreds of motorists, the town’s real concern is the need for clear access for police, fire and ambulance services in the event of an emergency or an evacuation.

With Route 90 closed, the only ways in and out of Ocean City on a busy mid-summer day is Route 50 or through Delaware and those routes were already clogged last Sunday. Resort officials have pointed out on multiple occasions an ambulance attempting to leave Ocean City and reach an area hospital in an emergency could have its travel time significantly increased if Route 90 was inaccessible.

Formal letters have been written an informal verbal requests have been made to SHA over the years to have Route 90 improvements moved higher up the priority list for Worcester County in terms of state highway projects, but the process has become more complicated recently. A change in the process now has the Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) making the decisions and controlling the purse strings on state highway projects.

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.