State’s Route 90 Position Called ‘Irresponsible,’ ‘Disturbing’

State’s Route 90 Position Called ‘Irresponsible,’ ‘Disturbing’
Photo by Chris Parypa

OCEAN CITY — After state transportation officials essentially said funding concerns were burying the proposed dualization of Route 90 on the local highway priority list, resort officials called the lack of priority for the project both “irresponsible” and “disturbing.”

During an annual tour of local jurisdictions earlier this month, Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) officials outlined a prioritized list of ongoing or pending state highway projects in Worcester County for the county commissioners. Conspicuously absent from the state’s list of highway projects for Worcester was the future dualization of Route 90, one of two main access points in and out of Ocean City.

MDOT officials said there were other major projects in Worcester County and across the state to consider first and there simply wasn’t any funding at this time to begin considering upgrades to 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.

Last Monday, County Commissioner Joe Mitrecic, who represents Ocean City in Snow Hill, updated the Mayor and Council on several issues at the county level germane to Ocean City and the discussion inevitably came back around to Route 90.

“Route 90 is not on the state’s master plan,” Mitrecic told the Mayor and Council. “There simply is no money for it. When you meet with them, you need to make sure you stress it is a priority for Ocean City and the county.”

Mitrecic was referring to the annual meeting between Ocean City and MDOT officials on a variety of highway improvement projects early next month. Councilman Wayne Hartman said he was at the meeting with MDOT in Snow Hill two weeks ago and his main takeaway was the estimated lifespan of the Route 50 bridge. Hartman said any improvements to Route 90 had to be coordinated with the eventual repair or replacement of the Route 50 bridge for safety and logistical concerns. Naturally, if the Route 50 bridge was essentially taken out of the equation while it was being repaired or replaced, Route 90 would have to shoulder the traffic loads.

“One of the things I was surprised at was they put the life of the bridge at 15-20 years,” he said. “We really need to address our concerns. There have been times when we’ve nearly been paralyzed with both bridges open because of accidents.”

Councilman Dennis Dare provided a brief history of the Route 90 corridor and its bridges entering and leaving Ocean City. He said Route 90 was built in the early 1970s at a time when Ocean City was steadily developing and expanding northward along the barrier island.

“In the 1960s, they had the foresight to provide another access point to the north end, but they only built a two-lane highway,” he said. “Over the years, we’ve seen so many accidents and deaths along Route 90 that they finally put a guardrail down the center.”

Dare pointed out there are numerous other highway projects locally and around the state that are inexplicably ahead of Route 90.

“I don’t know what the thinking is for the state to have just two access points really for the second largest city in Maryland for much of the year,” he said. “It’s irresponsible. I’m not sure where we go from here. We already own the right-of-way and it’s basically shovel-ready. It’s probably one of the easiest projects to do.”

Mayor Rick Meehan agreed.

“It’s disturbing,” he said. “It seems like we’ve actually taken a step backward. This is not just an Ocean City issue. Worcester County wants it and Ocean Pines wants it, because it all ties into what they want to do with Route 589.”