OCEAN CITY- With news still trickling in of a suspected terrorist attack in London involving a vehicle crashing into a pedestrian area protected with barriers, Ocean City officials on Tuesday afternoon reviewed a considerably scaled-down plan for the second phase of the Boardwalk vehicle access control system.
Last year, after a handful of similar events in the U.S. and around the world in which terrorists killed and injured dozens of victims by crashing trucks and other vehicles into large areas where people gather, Ocean City began exploring ways to ramp up security in the form of vehicle access controls on the Boardwalk. Of course, unauthorized vehicles are not allowed on the Boardwalk, but there were dozens of access points where a vehicle could reach the famed promenade.
To that end, resort officials began exploring a series of permanent and semi-permanent barrier systems, from gated access points that would allow police, fire, emergency services and the Beach Patrol, for example, to access the Boardwalk, to heavy planters, bollards and other barriers in different areas that would prevent unauthorized vehicles from reaching Boardwalk crowds.
The first phase was completed before this summer season as sort of stop-gap measure to make sure something was in place in the most sensitive areas including temporary gates and other barriers to prevent vehicles from accessing the Boardwalk and its big summer crowds. The first phase was admittedly not aesthetically pleasing, but is serving a purpose until the larger, more permanent second phase is installed.
However, when the bids were received for the second phase in July, which included as many as 12 gated access points, some automatic and some manual, along with decorative bollards and planters in other areas in keeping with other aesthetic features of the Boardwalk, the price tag came in at around $4.26 million, or about three or four times higher than the initial estimate. Somewhat sticker shocked by the bids, the Mayor and Council instructed City Engineer Terry McGean and his staff, along with project designer JMT Engineering, to go back to the drawing board and “value engineer” phase two of the Boardwalk access control plan to seek areas where the price could be reduced without compromising the primary goal of preventing unauthorized vehicles from accessing the Boardwalk.
On Tuesday, McGean and JMT project designer Mark Parker returned with a trimmed down version that still accomplished all of the goals of securing the Boardwalk without some of the bells and whistles included in the original plan presented in July. As a result, the second phase of the Boardwalk access control project saw its price drop from the $4.26 million estimated in July to around $2.91 million, presenting a savings of around $1.35 million.
During the presentation on Tuesday, Mayor Rick Meehan referenced a suspected terrorist incident just that morning in London when a vehicle crashed into a high pedestrian area near the Parliament building, news of which was still trickling out.
“We all know how important this project is,” he said. “If you were watching TV this morning, you saw what was going on in England and that illustrates why we’re doing this. That could have been much worse without the barriers they had.”
McGean explained after going back to the drawing board and working with the consultant and the Police Commission, several changes in the original design for phase two were being recommended although they didn’t compromise the overall safety goals. For example, two of the 12 planned gated operations at certain locations were eliminated and replaced with lower-cost options. All of the remaining gated areas were changed to manual operations with an option to go to an automatic operation in the future. Many of the decorative spheres and flower box bollards were replaced with less aesthetically pleasing but considerably less expensive options.
At the Inlet lot, which includes several areas where vehicles could access the Boardwalk, a less expensive, but equally sufficient post and rail system was substituted for the more expensive option presented in July. Parker said the post and rail option, or possibly even a post and cable option, would meet the crash ratings desired, but would be somewhat less attractive and possibly less functional than the original plan for the Inlet lot.
“There is tremendous cost-savings with this system,” he said. “The cost per linear foot makes a huge difference and its quicker to install. One of the biggest drawbacks would be pedestrian access. This system tends to have a funneling effect.”
Another option proposed that could reduce the overall cost even further was lowering street ends at certain locations at the north end of the Boardwalk. There was time when all of the street ends at the Boardwalk were considerably lower than the Boardwalk surface itself, and that remains the case on most streets where the pavement is a few feet lower than the Boardwalk.
However, over the years when certain streets were redesigned and repaved, they were engineered to ramp right up to the Boardwalk level. Those streets include sections from 18th Street to 20th Street, and from 23rd Street to 25th Street. McGean said lowering those street ends would eliminate the need for protective barriers in those locations and could save another $200,000 or so on the total cost of the project. He said lowering the street ends wasn’t included in the estimate presented on Tuesday because he wanted direction from the Mayor and Council before proceeding to the design phase.
“I know lowering street ends is a little controversial and it’s limited to the north end,” he said. “Having the street raised to the level of the Boardwalk in those areas is more pedestrian friendly. I just want to check with you to see if it’s a ‘heck no’ or come back for more discussion.”
Most, if not all, of the elected officials were solidly against lowering the street ends in those locations given the relatively low cost savings compared to safety and ease of access issues.
“Lowering the street ends is not an option for me,” said Councilman Wayne Hartman. “At $30,000 per street, it’s just not worth the savings. There are safety issues and those areas tend to collect trash and leaves. To save $200,000 by lowering those street ends just seems like taking a step backward.”
Meehan agreed lowering those certain street ends should not be an option.
“I’m not in favor or lowering street ends and I hope we don’t go in that direction,” he said. “It seems like we’d be taking a step back.”
With some of the details dispensed with, the discussion came around to how best to fund the second phase of the project. The recommendation was to pay for the entire estimated $2.91 million from the general fund balance, which would give McGean and the consultant some flexibility to continue to move the project forward, with a plan to reimburse the general fund by piggybacking on a future bond issuance or with grants or a combination of both.
“You could pass a resolution authorizing yourselves to reimburse the general fund up to $2.91 million,” he said. “It does not bind you to reimburse through bonds. It doesn’t lock you into that. It just allows you to use that option if you choose.”
However, some on the council voiced concern about coming up with a payment strategy before the new bids for the project are even on the table.
“We’re not sure how the bids are going to come in yet,” said Councilman Dennis Dare. “They might come in considerably less and we just want to write a check. They might come in considerably higher and we want to bond this for 20 years. I think it’s premature until we get the bids.”
After considerable debate, the Mayor and Council unanimously approved a motion to eliminate lowering street ends from consideration and to initiate a resolution to fund $250,000 of the initial design and engineering work, which will allow McGean and the consultant to keep the project moving forward. Then, once the bids are received, the Mayor and Council will decide on how best to fund the overall project.