SNOW HILL – Elected officials stressed the importance of dualizing Route 90 during a presentation from transportation officials this week.
On Tuesday, representatives from the Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) made their annual presentation to the Worcester County Commissioners. Though the commissioners were quick to voice interest in improvements to both the Route 90 and Route 589, MDOT officials offered no immediate solutions.
“We’re challenged by resources right now,” said Deputy Transportation Secretary Earl Lewis Jr.
Lewis and other transportation officials met with the commissioners Tuesday as part of MDOT’s statewide tour to discuss transportation priorities. MDOT leaders outlined local projects that had been done this year, such as the addition of rumble strips and signage at Assateague Island to help protect the park’s wild horses, as well as projects that would be underway in 2020. Officials said that by June of 2020, the years-long dualization of Route 113 would be complete.
Commissioner Josh Nordstrom said he was pleased he’d be able to share good news with his constituents who traveled the road on a frequent basis.
“June 2020 is a solid date and I can take that back to the people, who quite honestly ask me a lot,” he said.
Commissioner Joe Mitrecic asked why the dualization of Route 90 had not been mentioned as a future project when both the county and the Town of Ocean City had reached out to the state about adding it to the priority list.
“The Worcester County Commissioners have asked that this be put on as a priority and I know the Town of Ocean City has also asked this be put on as a priority,” he said. “I’m just wondering when we’re going to see it get there.”
Lewis acknowledged the importance of the project.
“Our capital budget right now is very, very tight,” he said.
Mitrecic added that the commissioners and Ocean City leaders had advised the state that they didn’t believe the Route 50 bridge, which is on the state’s future projects list, could even be worked on unless the Route 90 bridge was dualized first.
“We’ll keep that in consideration and continue the dialogue,” Lewis said. “There’s one challenge that we always have, there’s always more projects that we’d like to do than we have resources to do right now.”
Mitrecic said he understood that but thought the Route 90 dualization should at least be on the state’s list.
“I know that once it gets listed it could be 20 years out,” he said. “This is something I know this board of commissioners and the Town of Ocean City have expressed concern about and want to move this forward.”
Commissioner Chip Bertino asked if there was a timeline for any improvements to congested Route 589.
Lewis again alluded to financial constraints.
“The challenges and the increased dollars we’ve had to spend on transit, we’ve had to really sharpen our pencils,” Lewis said.
Bertino asked whether potential improvements were 20 to 25 years away.
“My honest answer is I don’t know how long it’s going to be,” Lewis said. “I do know there are a lot of projects that have taken some time to do but if we maintain our focus on the importance of getting those done, eventually they get done — even large projects. I hope it’s not decades away, I hope it’s more like years, but I can’t forecast that.”
Jay Meredith, district engineer for MDOT’s State Highway Administration, added that his agency had completed some smaller projects on Route 589 that would help with congestion. Meredith said the possibility of a roundabout at the north gate to Ocean Pines was also being explored.
Delegate Charles Otto and Delegate Wayne Hartman thanked MDOT for Tuesday’s presentation. Hartman also used the opportunity to stress the significance of dualizing the Route 90 bridge.
“I can’t tell you how much of a safety concern that is and how disappointing it is to not see that being recognized,” he said.
Hartman pointed out that during the White Marlin Open, one of the busiest weeks of the summer in Ocean City, the Route 50 bridge got stuck for some time.
“Route 90 being a single lane, it doesn’t take much, a simple accident can make that impassible and leave the island totally stranded,” he said. “Emergency response vehicles and so forth have no way to navigate.”
He said he hoped that when MDOT returned for next year’s presentation its priorities would include Route 90 dualization.