OCEAN CITY — Resort officials were presented their bi-annual spring update from the State Highway Administration (SHA) on various traffic-related projects finished or in the planning stage in and around the Ocean City area.
Twice a year, SHA officials come before the Mayor and Council to provide an update on various projects, upgrades and future plans in and around the resort area. On Tuesday, SHA District Engineer Jay Meredith and his staff came before an abbreviated council with just four sitting members present to provide the annual update.
There are no major repaving projects planned for Coastal Highway in the next cycle, although the Route 90 corridor expansion project approved last summer by Gov. Larry Hogan is in the environmental assessment phase. Otherwise, Meredith provided a punch list of SHA projects around the resort to improve traffic flows and enhance pedestrian safety, for example.
Meredith said SHA’s year in Ocean City got off to an unusual start with a major snowstorm in January. SHA crews deployed a new snow removal plan for Coastal Highway in which heavy snow was pumped from the highway into trucks before being transported to the Inlet parking lot.
“This year has brought many challenges already,” he said. “We had a major snowstorm in January and we had Coastal Highway completely opened within 48 hours. The new, innovative snow removal approach was very successful.”
Other projects on which Meredith briefly touched included the potential for heated traffic signals. During the January snowstorm, traffic signals were covered with snow, snarling traffic and forcing fire department crews to hose them off to ensure safety once the highway was cleared. Meredith said heated traffic signals were being explored for Coastal Highway.
In a separate project, the Ocean City Police Department reported SHA will be repairing and upgrading existing traffic signal on Coastal Highway at 17th Street, 74th Street, 77th Street, 81st Street, 85th Street, 100th Street, 118th Street, 123rd Street, 127th Street and 130th Street. Single-lane closures are expected on Coastal Highway from 7 a.m.-4 p.m. on weekdays through June 30.
Other projects Meredith briefed the council on included SHA’s involvement in the planned redevelopment of the Baltimore Avenue corridor, a traffic study for the area around the proposed Margaritaville project between 13th Street and 14th Street, including potentially moving a traffic signal, restriping Coastal Highway, redoing crosswalks, and bringing as many as 87 handicap ramps into ADA compliance, among others.
The council questioned the status of the Route 90 dualization project, which has become a top priority for Ocean City in recent years and got an endorsement from Hogan last summer.
“Governor Hogan made the announcement in August,” said Meredith. “There is an environmental study underway that is scheduled to be completed in December 2022. It will move into the design phase when funding becomes available.”
Meredith said there would be ample opportunity for public input throughout the Route 90 project process, including a newsletter with an update scheduled to be released next month.
“It advises citizens about the progress of the project,” he said. “There is a stakeholder survey included and we encourage public input on the project. There will also be a virtual public meeting to take public feedback.”
Even before Tuesday’s bi-annual update meeting with SHA, resort officials had prepared a list of projects they wanted SHA to address in advance of the summer season. Public Works Director Hal Adkins thanked Meredith and his crew for taking care of most of the projects on the list.
“We put a punch list together and shared it with Jay and his staff,” he said. “I just want to say thank you. They have already knocked out a lot of this stuff.”
Another issue brought up on Tuesday was the major redevelopment of the Ember’s restaurant property at 23rd Street and its potential impact on traffic for the residential neighborhoods in the immediate area.
City Manager Terry McGean said the existing traffic signal at 23rd Street might need to be altered in some way.
“One of the condo associations approached me with issues with the Embers redevelopment project,” he said. “It’s a difficult situation. When the light turns red there, the traffic stacks up quickly.”
Meredith said SHA was aware of the changes along that section of Coastal Highway.
“We are taking a look at that,” he said. “We need a clear understanding of what the development is and the traffic conditions at that signal.”
When asked if the traffic signal at 23rd Street could be relocated slightly to the north, McGean said it was a possibility, but it was not without challenges.
“A lot of these things have their own little nuances,” he said. “We don’t want to take a problem and make it worse.”
Meredith agreed the entire traffic pattern around the 23rd Street area needed to be explored.
“We’re not sure yet,” he said. “It could require moving the signal. We don’t know until we take a close look at all of it.”
When asked about a potential pedestrian crossing uptown in the area of 143rd Street, Meredith said there were still uncertainties. Ground has been broken on a new 56-unit condominium complex and Meredith said there have hints about a potential redevelopment of the Sun and Surf movie theater site, although he believed there was no contract in place for that project.
“We know a developer is already putting in 56 units,” he said. “We’re keeping a close eye on that area. We just want to make sure we don’t spend a lot of money putting something in there that we might have pull out if something changes up there.”
Councilman Mark Paddack asked about the Princess Royale pumping drainage from its parking garage out onto Coastal Highway at 92nd Street. Paddack said the hotel complex pumps excess drainage from a catch basin onto the highway when it reaches capacity.
“It pumps out onto Coastal Highway,” he said. “This was brought up three years ago. It freezes over in the winter, creating a safety issue. They pump out the basin when there is a significant threat of rain. It seems like the simple solution would be to run a line to the storm drain system under the highway.”
Meredith said SHA was aware of the issue, but there was no immediate quick fix.
“That’s a complicated situation,” he said. “We have to have the water tested to see what it might contain before we consider connecting it to a storm drain line. That could be a solution, but it’s really not our problem. They are pumping onto us.”
Councilman John Gehrig asked if there was a better way to synchronize the traffic signals along Coastal Highway, especially during the offseason.
“The one question I get is the timing of the lights,” he said. “Just today, I got red lights at several intersections and not a single vehicle crossed from east or west.”
Council Secretary Tony DeLuca asked Meredith if SHA had considered a better “Reach the Beach” plan for the Route 50 corridor.
“Route 90 will always be our top priority,” he said. “My one request, and I know there is a lot of new infrastructure projects, does the state have a priority list for Reach the Beach and Route 50? I think Route 404 needs an overpass and Route 213 could use an overpass. There could be an overpass at the outlets there at Queenstown. We really could use a bypass at Easton too. It just really backs up along there even on a weekday.”
Meredith said those projects could be considered in the future, but the state has a big priority list currently being weighed.