Downtown OC Paving Project To Begin Soon, Be Completed By May 18

OCEAN CITY — The biggest takeaway from the State Highway Administration (SHA) semi-annual briefing with resort officials this week was a considerable milling and paving project will begin this month.

SHA District Engineer Jay Meredith and his staff briefed the council this week on a variety of projects large and small in the resort, many of which have been completed or are nearly completed. For example, in March, SHA contractors began a milling and paving project along Philadelphia Avenue from 26th to 9th streets, and Meredith told the council on Tuesday that project had been completed.

However, a second phase of that project will soon begin. SHA contractors are mobilizing for a milling and paving project along Philadelphia Avenue from 9th Street to North Division Street. The project also includes repaving the portion of the Route 50 Bridge from the draw span to its terminus at Philadelphia Avenue at North Division Street.

The project also includes repaving North Division Street between Philadelphia Avenue and the traffic signal at Baltimore Avenue. The milling is expected to start on April 22 and run through May 11. The paving of that section is expected to begin on May 6 and be concluded by May 18.

Otherwise, the semi-annual meeting between SHA officials and the Mayor and Council covered a wide variety of potential projects. For example, there was some debate about the intersection of Philadelphia Avenue at the foot of the Route 50 Bridge including enhancing the existing wooden bollard system that prevents vehicles turning west on Route 50 from crossing over into the east bound lanes in the event of an accident.

Resort officials pushed for something sturdier at that intersection including a different barrier or even a jersey wall. The request came after some recent incidents when vehicles drove over the wooden bollards and into the eastbound lanes. There was also discussion about improving the pedestrian crossings in that area.

The future dualization of Route 90 was glossed over for the most part, although SHA officials told the council they know it remains a priority for Ocean City and Worcester County and is still on the state’s radar. SHA officials also told the council studies have indicated a new traffic signal is not warranted at 3rd Street and Philadelphia Avenue at this time, although that could change with the town’s new public works facility at 2nd Street is completed. The following is a look at some of the other topics discussed on Tuesday:

Median Fence Achieving Goals

Prior to last summer, SHA completed a median fence project with enhanced lighting along Coastal Highway from 62nd Street to 40th Street. The intent was to reduce pedestrian-vehicle collisions in an area historically known for them. On Tuesday, Councilman Dennis Dare said the median fence in general and the enhanced lighting specifically improved safety along that section of the corridor and asked SHA officials if there were plans to expand it.

“I think the median fence project has been very successful,” he said. “The fence is a big part of it, but the LED lights in the median have greatly improved lighting in that area. Is there an opportunity to expand the LED lighting in the median in other areas? It might not warrant another fence or need more landscaping, but the safety issues warrant improving lighting along the corridor where possible.”

Meredith explained expanding the fence project is dependent on available funding, but adding more LED lights in the median in other areas of the highway is under consideration.

“Safety is paramount,” he said. “I think the combination of the fence and the lighting has been very successful. We’ve been discussing adding more lighting in the median in other areas. It is on our radar.”

Councilman Mark Paddack drew from his experience as a former Ocean City police officer to praise the median fence project and push for its expansion to other areas.

“That project single-handedly stopped pedestrian collisions in that area,” he said. “I have to admit I was skeptical at first, but the number of pedestrian collisions has dropped off. I hope SHA continues south with that because fences and walls work.”

Storm Drain Cleaning

Last year, it came to light the town’s extensive storm drain system was in dire need of a major cleanout. It was learned the town’s 46 miles of storm drains along with 2,400 catch basins and 330 outfalls had been thoroughly cleaned in over three decades since right after Hurricane Gloria in 1985.

To that end, the town partnered with SHA on an extensive storm drain cleaning project that hit some snares when it was learned the extent of the infilling was more than anticipated in certain areas. When SHA reached its funding level for its share of the storm drain cleaning, it pulled out of the project for the time being.

Councilman Tony DeLuca this week somewhat took SHA to task for pulling out of the project when it became clear it was more difficult than anticipated. DeLuca asked if the state had plans to return and finish its portion of the job.

“Do you expect to get more funding for storm drain cleaning?” he said. “Is there an annual plan to continue that?”

Meredith explained SHA stopped working on the project when the contracted amount of funding ran out and not because of other challenges.

“We put out a procurement contract and when we hit the dollar amount, we stop,” he said. “That’s just the nature of how the contract works.”

Dare somewhat tongue in cheek said the town and its state partner shouldn’t wait another three decades to tackle the storm drain cleaning and suggested it will become easier and cheaper if its isn’t allowed to go that far.

“I think we need to do it at least every 33 years,” he said. “We need to stay on top of it. Going forward, we should be able to solve a lot of the problems with a lot less money.”

Bike Lane Solutions

Resort officials have been working with SHA on a solution for the northbound bike lane along Coastal Highway in the mid-town area between 59th and 64th streets and finding answers has been challenging. Currently, bicycles share the far-right lane with busses, leaving the three middle lanes for vehicular traffic. However, in that section between 59th Street and 64th Street, Coastal Highway shifts to the east where Route 90 comes in and the bus lane disappears in that stretch.

SHA’s solution has been to have bicycles share the right travel lane with vehicles through that stretch and is in the process of installing signage to alert bicyclists of the changes.

“The challenge is what to do we do to let the bicyclists know what action they should take,” said SHA’s Jana Potvin. “There is not enough room there for a dedicated bike lane, so the option is to terminate the bike lane and pick it up again at 64th Street. There is no place else to put bikes and we can’t allow them to go on the sidewalk.”

However, DeLuca was not entirely satisfied with the SHA solution to the bike lane issue.

“I’ve been working on this for over two years,” he said. “I’ve tried everything. We think this is a dangerous situation. The bike lane just ends in that section and the bikes go into the slow lane with traffic.”

DeLuca said SHA has its solution, but recommended Ocean City follow up with its own option.

“I think we need to put signs out there alerting them the bike lane is going to come to an end and they should consider dismounting and walking on the sidewalk,” he said. “The only other option is for them to continue in the slow lane with traffic, but that’s not a safe solution.”

Councilman Matt James agreed having bicycle traffic mingling with higher-speed vehicle traffic in that area was not the best option.

“My concern with sharing the road is the highway shifts to the east in that area where Route 90 comes in,” he said. “It’s not like it is a shared lane for the entire length of Coastal Highway. It changes in that area. It’s not a safe situation.”

For his part, Councilman John Gehrig suggested SHA and the town could put all of the signs out there they wanted, but it was not likely going to change the habits of bicyclists and motorists.

“We can put signs out there telling them to get off their bikes and walk, but nobody is going to do that,” he said. “For that three-block stretch, we just have to trust people out there on bikes and in cars to look out for each other and share the road.”

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.