OCEAN CITY – The eventual dualization of the Route 90 corridor continues to move forward by degrees including a survey initiated by the Maryland Department of Transportation State Highway Administration (MDOT SHA) to gage the public’s input on some of the early conceptual designs.
For several years, Ocean City officials have expressed a desire to see improvements to the Route 90 corridor, 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 years, improvements to Route 90 had been further down the county’s pecking order in terms of state highway priorities, behind the continued work on Route 113 and other projects, including Route 589 and the eventual replacement of the Route 50 bridge. However, in August 2021, Gov. Larry Hogan announced funding for the Route 90 improvements, including dualization, would be included in the state’s Consolidated Transportation Plan (CTP) for the planning phase of dualizing Route 90 into Ocean City.
To that end, MDOT SHA has initiated a survey to receive public input on preliminary improvement concepts and highway needs for Route 90, also known as the Ocean City Expressway. The survey area stretches from Route 50 to Coastal Highway and is part of the state’s Route 90 Planning and Environmental Linkages (PEL) study.
The survey is available on MDOT SHA’s Route 90 project portal page and asks respondents to prioritize projects for the corridor that could be considered in future planning and design efforts related to traffic operations, capacity, safety, pedestrian and bicyclist accessibility and emergency evacuation, for example.
Preliminary concepts have been developed for the survey and they are across the board. Among other things, the preliminary design concepts include additional lanes for the existing infrastructure, intersection improvements and potentially new bridges over the St. Martin River and the Assawoman Bay.
Again, the preliminary concepts are just that, but they provide a jumping off point to present to the public through the survey, which opened last week and will remain open through 11:59 p.m. on Nov. 10. Survey results will be used to form preliminary improvement concepts for the corridor.
For example, Concept 1A includes two eastbound lanes and one westbound lane separated by a median, which from a rendering appears to be a Jersey wall. Concept 1B would be essentially the same as Concept 1A from Route 113 to the St. Martin River but would then transition to two eastbound lanes and two westbound lanes with a median and shoulders from the St. Martin River to Coastal Highway.
Concept 1C would add a third lane to the existing roadway. It would include one eastbound lane and one westbound lane with a third lane in the middle being a reversible lane. It would also include a median and shoulders. Concept 2 would include four lanes on the existing roadway with two eastbound and two westbound. It would add a lane in each direction to existing roadway separated by a median and with shoulders.
The final concept presented in the survey, Concept 3, represents the biggest departure from the existing Route 90 corridor. It calls for a four-lane dualized roadway. It includes constructing a two-lane roadway to the north or south of the existing roadway with a wide grass median in between.
Again, the survey is simply a means by which MDOT SHA can gather public input in the early stages of what will likely be a long process. There are still environmental assessments to complete, design and engineering phases and eventually construction. Of course, the availability of state funding for the project will likely determine how quickly it is expedited. Nonetheless, the survey launched last week is a positive step for the long-awaited improvements to the corridor.
“Improvements along the Maryland 90 corridor are vital for all stakeholders, and input from the community and those who travel this corridor will be critical to help us develop a strategy to address current and future needs,” said MDOT SHA Administrator Tim Smith.
According to MDOT SHA, Route 90 from Route 50 to Coastal Highway is generally a two-lane freeway with a 55-mph speed limit. However, there are often times when motorists never have the chance to reach that speed limit. During the summer months, traffic on Route 90 often backs up six miles to Route 589 on Fridays and over seven miles to Route 113 on Saturdays.
Route 90, along with Route 50, are primary evacuation routes leaving Ocean City in the event of a severe weather event or emergency, and Route 90 is also a designated hurricane evacuation route from the resort. In 2021, Hogan announced $850,000 for the Route 90 study’s project planning phase. In June, the governor announced $15 million in new funding to advance the planning and design of improvements to the corridor.
“MDOT shares Governor Hogan’s focus to address current and future needs for this critical corridor and this beautiful part of the state,” said MDOT Secretary James F. Ports, Jr. “The feedback we get through the MD 90 study process will help us focus on key issues and solutions for the residents of Worcester County, for Eastern Shore visitors and for the region’s economic vitality.”
As part of the Route 90 PEL study, MDOT SHA is assessing corridor needs and will summarize analyses and recommendations in a report to the public by the end of the year. Results will be used for the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process for future potential projects in the corridor. The NEPA process is anticipated to begin next year.