Baltimore Ave. Timeline Extended

OCEAN CITY – It was learned during a budget wrap-up session last week the Baltimore Avenue redevelopment project will take longer than first anticipated.

In recent years, a major renovation of the streetscape along the Baltimore Avenue corridor from North Division Street to 15th Street, including undergrounding the utilities and widening the sidewalks, has been on the town’s radar, but the issue is complicated. The project was listed as a top priority in the recent capital improvement plan and will ultimately come with an estimated $20 million price tag funded through a future bond sale. In the fiscal year 2022 budget approved in the spring, $200,000 was included for preliminary design work, which will be refunded to the town when the next bond sale is complete.

Through the process, then-City Engineer and now City Manager Terry McGean has presented different alternatives to the Baltimore Avenue redevelopment plan. In December, the council approved a hybrid alternative put forth by Councilman Peter Buas that includes wider sidewalks on each side of the thoroughfare, a utility strip on each side, undergrounding the utilities, providing a pedestrian-safe buffer, landscaping and ultimately repaving the roadway.

Through the initial design phases, McGean had proposed a two-year construction phase for the project, including the undergrounding of utilities in the first phase and the landscaping and repaving in the second phase. The intent all along was to limit the disruption along the major corridor to the extent possible. However, during a budget wrap-up session last week, McGean said the construction schedule for the redevelopment of Baltimore Avenue would need to be expanded.

“With Baltimore Avenue, we originally envisioned this project happening in two years,” he said. “The first year is all of the undergrounding and the second year would be the street-scaping.

McGean said the resort’s seasons have changed since the last section of Baltimore Avenue north of 15th Street was developed.

“In 1998, we were able to come in the day after Labor Day and start tearing up Baltimore Avenue and were able to work right up the famous five o’clock on the Friday before Memorial Day,” he said. “I don’t think anybody in this room wants us to do that given how much we’ve grown in the offseason.”

McGean said the original two-year time estimate was aggressive.

“We have seen how long it has taken to do Somerset Street, and that’s just one block,” he said. “We would like to spread the Baltimore Avenue project over four years. That would allow us to not start the project until late October and be finished sometime in April.”

Council Secretary Tony DeLuca questioned what the debt service would be on the $20 million project.

“To summarize what you said, the budget is $1.54 million,” he said. “If you add all of this up, we’re at $1.69 million. Unless you count the projects listed as critical, we’re over budget. When we last talked about Baltimore Avenue, it was $20 million. If it was amortized over 20 years with a bond, it would be about $1.4 million per year.”

The section of Baltimore Avenue between North Division Street and 15th Street will be just the latest section of the corridor with the undergrounding of utilities. Councilman John Gehrig questioned what the benefits are from undergrounding utilities.

“What we found is the benefit of undergrounding is aesthetics,” said McGean. “It clears up sidewalk space and it’s just a better street. Ultimately, it’s also more storm-resilient. You don’t have the issue with power lines coming down. We’d like to do it in other places, but it’s very costly.”

Public Works Director Hal Adkins said there was also a public safety benefit.

“One of the benefits is fire apparatus accessibility,” he said. “When the poles and overhead wires go away, they have free access.”

Mayor Rick Meehan said that section of Baltimore Avenue was important from a perception standpoint.

“If you come down the Route 50 bridge, the first impression of our community you get is Baltimore Avenue,” he said. “That first impression is so important for everything we do as far as tourism is concerned.”

Meehan also pointed to the growth in the section of Baltimore Avenue north of 15th Street.

“When we undergrounded 15th Street to 33rd Street, it encouraged redevelopment,” he said. “That all of those power lines were underground was even more enticing to some of those property owners. If you look at some of the projects on Baltimore Avenue north of 15th Street, that has significantly increased the tax base.”

When a question was raised about the significant investment in the Baltimore Avenue corridor, Meehan said it was a project that would benefit the entire town.

“Every time we do something like this, there is a benefit to all property owners,” he said. “We do different things in different areas. In some cases, we’re funding canal dredging, and in other cases, we’re undergrounding utilities. In other areas, it could be bulkheading. We are one community. What you put all of that together, it benefits each and every one of us.”

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.