SNOW HILL– Local officials stressed the need for improvements to Route 589 during an annual meeting with Maryland Department of Transportation representatives.
On Tuesday, officials from the Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) shared an annual update with the Worcester County Commissioners. The commissioners used the opportunity to advocate for long-needed Route 589 improvements.
“We’ve been waiting 20 years,” Commissioner Chip Bertino said.
Jim Ports, secretary of MDOT, thanked the commissioners for the opportunity for the agency to provide an overview of its latest Consolidated Transportation Plan (CTP). He outlined major road improvements, including the work to Route 113, that had occurred in recent years and said that the latest CTP included the largest transportation budget ever at $19.9 billion.
Tim Smith, MDOT’s State Highway Administration administrator, said the agency was focusing on asset management, accessibility and mobility. He said SHA had worked hard to finish the improvements at Route 376 and Route 113—the highway’s Assateague Road intersection—this summer.
“That added capacity to that intersection, improves both traffic flow and safety on a major route to Assateague State Park,” he said.
Smith also brought up the $15 million announced by Gov. Larry Hogan that increased predevelopment efforts for Route 90.
“That decision allowed us to accelerate planning and fund the future design phase for that 12-mile stretch,” he said.
At that point work on a planning and environmental linkages study was already underway.
“So that preliminary planning allowed us to look at traffic operations, capacity, safety throughout the entire corridor as well as look at pedestrian/bicycle accessibility, economic development opportunities, as well as emergency evacuation…,” Smith said. “We’ve developed some preliminary concepts for that corridor. The concepts are on a public survey and available on our website right now. I’d encourage you and your constituents to look at that.”
Bertino asked when the county could expect the planning work that began 20 years ago for Route 589 to move forward.
“There’s just not enough money to do every project for everyone throughout the state,” Ports said. “I hope you understand.”
Bertino said he did.
“It’s just very frustrating when my constituents hear that we’re moving forward on Route 90, which is certainly needed, but that Route 90 corridor impacts 589,” Bertino said. “And Route 589 impacts Route 90. We’ve had conversations over the past eight years every time that you’ve come down here … There has been no movement in 8 years.”
Ports said state law stipulated how MDOT rated its projects.
“It really depends on where your project rates with all the projects throughout the state,” he said.
Chief Administrative Officer Weston Young told the commissioners staff has been working with MDOT to determine right-of-way needs for a Route 589 expansion. Ports said that would help smooth the way for future improvements. He added, however, the required environmental studies could also impact future improvements.
Ports noted that the county’s regular letter to MDOT identified Route 90, the Route 50 bridge and Route 589 as areas for attention.
Bertino stressed that the three were weighted equally.
“If you believe 589 should wait until those other two are completed there is not going to be any fix to 589 for another 50 or 60 years,” he said.
Commissioner Josh Nordstrom said the addition of a casino to Route 589 had significantly increased its traffic.
“When the state approved the casino, Ocean Downs Casino, they knew there’d be more traffic,” he said. “That project (Route 589) should have gone much much higher on the list.”