OCEAN CITY — There might be a new marked pedestrian crossing at 144th Street to accommodate a new residential development after resort officials this week agreed to appeal to the state to address the issue.
Last August, the Planning Commission approved a site plan for the new 59-unit, multi-family townhouse Sanibel Seas development on the west side of Coastal Highway at 144th Street and the east side of Sinepuxent Avenue. While it wasn’t a condition of the site plan approval, gaining a new marked crosswalk at 144th Street was a recommendation from the commission.
Coastal Highway is a state roadway and any pedestrian safety improvements ultimately would come from the State Highway Administration (SHA). The planning commission expressed a desire for the project developer to foot the bill for the study to determine if a new marked crossing will be warranted when the project is completed to no avail. On Tuesday, Planning and Community Development Director Bill Neville approached the Mayor and Council about reaching out to SHA to at least begin the process.
“The recommendation from the planning commission is to request the State Highway Administration (SHA) to update the traffic engineering study to determine if a pedestrian crossing should be installed at 144th Street,” he said. “As a result of the Sanibel Seas development, it would provide a safe crossing from families in the new community to get to the beach. As it stands now, the closest crossing is two blocks south at 142nd Street.”
Again, Neville said at site plan review, the commission explored the possibility of having the developer forward-fund the pedestrian crossing study to no avail.
“The planning commission was trying to determine if the cost of the study should be the responsibility of the developer,” he said. “They determined that request was appropriate at site plan review. The development is not the sole source of the need for the crossing.”
Neville said he has contacted SHA officials about the possibility, but the formal request would need to come from the Mayor and Council.
“I’ve reached out to the SHA district engineer to request this be a priority project for Ocean City,” he said. “SHA has approved the need for this, but due to staffing issues, they can’t conduct the study at this time. The town would have to take the lead on doing a study, but it could be eligible for state grant money to offset the cost.”
Councilman Mark Paddack said at least part of the onus should be on the developer creating the 59-unit residential community.
“I disagree with the opinion this shouldn’t fall on the developer,” he said. “If those new units aren’t going in there, there is no need for a crosswalk. Why should the taxpayers pay for this if the developer is creating the need?”
Neville explained the study, and ultimately the decision to install a marked pedestrian crossing at 144th Street falls with the state. He said the Mayor and Council can initiate the process by sending a formal letter to SHA.
“Because Coastal Highway is a state highway, the town can’t act independently, and the developer can’t act independently,” he said. “I’m advocating sending a letter to SHA to just start the process.”
The study itself would cost an estimated $42,000. Should SHA decide a new crossing is warranted at 144th Street, the total cost of the project could come in around $150,000. Neville said while the new development is the impetus for the new crossing, there are other safety issues to consider for non-residents of the new community.
“It’s a safety issue,” he said. “Others will use it other than the residents of the new community. There are also issues to consider with the municipal bus turnaround in that same area.”
Nonetheless, Paddack could not be dissuaded the new development is not the catalyst for the need for a marked pedestrian crossing at 144th Street.
“I don’t disagree with the safety issue,” he said. “We need a $42,000 study and the developer is asking the town to pay the bill.”
A motion was made to send a letter to SHA requesting a pedestrian signal warrant study. That motion was approved 6-0 with Councilman Lloyd Martin absent. Council President Matt James questioned if the study was warranted before the new development was completed.
“The motion is just to send a letter to the state to initiate the process,” he said. “We’re not approving the $42,000 to have someone sit up there and count cars and people. The study seems backward to me. We really won’t see the need until after the development is complete.”