OCEAN CITY — Perhaps the biggest takeaway from the State Highway Administration (SHA) briefing to resort officials this week on pending projects was the Route 90 dualization is now firmly in the planning pipeline.
On Tuesday, SHA officials briefed the Mayor and Council on a variety of projects in various stages of planning or completion in and around the resort area. Topping the list was the proposed dualization of the Route 90 corridor, which has been Ocean City’s top priority. For years, Ocean City officials have expressed a desire to see Route 90 improvements, including expanding the current highway and its two bridges from two lanes to four lanes 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.
For several years, Route 90 improvements had been further down the county’s pecking order in terms of priorities, behind the continued work on Route 113, Route 589 through Ocean Pines and even the eventual replacement of the Route 50 Bridge. In August, however, Gov. Larry Hogan announced funding would be included in the state’s Consolidated Transportation Plan (CTP) for the planning phase of dualizing Route 90 into Ocean City.
“Maryland 90 is a top priority not only for safety, access and the local economy, but also for its vital role in emergency response,” Hogan said during a keynote speech at the Maryland Association of Counties summer conference in August. “We are very pleased to be taking this important step forward.”
During his semiannual briefing with the Mayor and Council on Tuesday, SHA District Engineer Jay Meredith said the state was making good on the governor’s promise, but there were still funding and project planning steps to get through before the dualization of Route 90 became a reality.
“We’re still recovering from COVID,” he said. “We’re excited to report the dualization of Route 90 is in the pipeline. It was preliminarily funded by the governor at $500,000. We’ve kicked it off. We now have a project number for it.”
Meredith said SHA is in the very early stages of planning on how to improve Route 90.
“The plan is being developed,” he said. “We’re not at the stage yet where we can say this is what it’s going to look like. We’ll be sure to keep Ocean City officials in the loop every step of the way.”
Meredith said there were important steps in the process to accomplish before any improvements to the major access point to Ocean City get underway.
“There will be an environmental assessment,” he said. “We’re at step one right now. There is a long way to go with this one.”
In response to a question about the process for dualizing Route 90, Meredith said all options would be explored.
“We’re looking at various options,” he said. “The options include widening the existing bridges or replacing them. More than likely they will be replaced. The big question is what happens to all of the traffic when it gets to Ocean City.”
Otherwise, SHA’s briefing to the Mayor and Council on Tuesday was fairly short and concise compared to other years. A question had been raised about synchronizing the traffic lights on Coastal Highway through SHA’s smart signal program, but Meredith said the unique nature of the highway would make that difficult.
“There was a question about the smart signal program on Coastal Highway,” he said. “It’s very complicated. It’s probably not a good fit down here. It’s virtually impossible with all of the pedestrian crossings.”
Meredith and his staff also briefed the Mayor and Council on pending paving projects in an around the resort area. He said there would be patchwork paving done on Routes 90 and 50, but there were no immediate plans for projects in the resort itself, except for a paving project along Baltimore Avenue in the south end of town, which would likely be put off for a year.
“We planned to do ADA work on Baltimore Avenue from the Inlet to North Division Street,” he said. “Depending on the timing, we’d like to get that work done. It looks like paving on Baltimore Avenue from the Inlet to North Division Street will be next fall.”
Otherwise, Meredith and his staff were optimistic about the funding stream for highway projects loosening up as the pandemic wanes. Council Secretary Tony DeLuca took the opportunity of Tuesday’s briefing to pitch a couple of his own ideas for highway projects away from the resort area, but could impact Ocean City.
“I was glad to hear you say you were optimistic for the future,” he said. “I have a couple of projects to propose. I’d like to see the removal of the intersection at Route 404 and I’m proposing a by-pass. This has been very frustrating for a couple of years for our visitors and condo owners. I go back and forth a couple of times a week and it always seems like it adds an hour to my trip. I’d also like to see a bypass at Cambridge. It can be done. People said it was crazy to build a bypass around Salisbury.”