Thoughts From The Publisher’s Desk – March 3, 2023

Thoughts From The Publisher’s Desk – March 3, 2023

What’s the takeaway from the latest step in the analysis of Route 90’s future – the completion of the state’s planning and environmental linkages study report? There are 142 pages to the tome and subsequently several conclusions.

  • An interesting part of the report was the sharing of a couple online public survey results conducted last year. There were 1,203 total survey responses received through the process. Some of the survey findings included 85% saying they would use Route 90 more often if congestion was reduced; 39% percent of respondents favor four lanes with a lane added in each direction; 32% prefer a dualized four-lane highway with a wide median in between (think Routes 113 and 50); the least favored option as far as design was a three-lane, reversible-land system; 13% seek bike access on Route 90; and 54% said improvements were most needed over the eastern most bridge over Assawoman Bay.
  • Route 90’s two bridges were discussed, and it will clearly be a major logistical and fiscal challenge. As a result, a new four-lane bridge is being evaluated from the west bank of the St. Martin River to Ocean City. The report read, “This proposed structure would be located to the south of Isle of Wight. It would require approximately .69 of additional bridge length be added to replace the existing roadway section on the Isle of Wight. In addition, an intersection would be located on the bridge in order to provide access to the Isle of Wight and an additional perpendicular structure needed to connect MD 90 to St. Martin’s Neck Road. The option was suggested by the USACOE (Corps of Engineers) in order to potentially reduce impacts to horseshoe crab and terrapin turtle habitats on the Isle of Wight.”
  • One of the slides in the report deals with the intersection of Route 90 and Coastal Highway in Ocean City. There were essentially four options spelled out with the first being no major modifications. Other options were a roundabout, which was suggested by the public during a workshop but seems to be not doable; a double right turn entering Ocean City with a signal at the pedestrian crossing; and a displaced left turn calling for the intersection to be reconstructed a clear demarcation for north and southbound Coastal Highway motorists.
  • As far as next steps, the study provides some recommended scenarios. The near-term (5-10 years) recommendations “as an independent project” concentrates on Coastal Highway to Route 589 and potentially providing an additional eastbound lane on Route 90. The 20-year recommendation deals with “preliminary design and corridor studies” for the stretch from Route 113 to Coastal Highway.

After much dialogue and a range of opinions, the Ocean City Mayor and Council, in a 4-3 vote, went along with staff’s recommendation to approve a $9.8 million construction contract for a new fire station on 65th Street in front of the current courthouse and police department. The new project will replace the cramped and inadequate 74th Street station.

The council was as divided as it gets on this decision. Voting for the contract were Council members Carol Proctor, Will Savage, Frank Knight and Tony DeLuca and opposed were Council President Matt James and Councilmen Peter Buas and John Gehrig.

Throughout the conversation about the existing mid-town fire station and potentially building a new one, James has been a steady voice against the massive expenditure. Citing “a spending issue,” James was as outspoken as I have seen him during his eight-year council career on the project this week.

“You’ve got a very active union, and I am of the opinion that if people that work in these stations were uncomfortable or felt that they were not being taken care of, we would know about it,” he said. “To suggest moving the station to 65th Street would be less congested is a little misleading. It’s probably one of the busiest intersections of Ocean City, with the exception of Route 90 and Route 50. You have over 300 employees that come and go from the public safety building or public works on a daily basis. Most trash trucks, every bus and most police cars and tow trucks come through that intersection, and on heavy checkout days, Route 90 can be backed up three or four blocks on Coastal Highway, which would block access from the fire house at 65th Street. … I think we should improve on the conditions at Station 3. I think our people do deserve clean and safe working conditions. I think all of that is not easily done, but possible to do in the current location.”

The decision ultimately came down to renovate the current station vs. building a new one. The renovation price tag was estimated at around $7 million. City Manager Terry McGean and Fire Chief Rich Bowers cautioned the council against the renovation route and advised in the staff recommendation to build a new facility instead.

“In my opinion, if you go that route, you are throwing good money after bad,” McGean said. “You are spending between $6 million and $7 million for a fire station you are not going to be able to expand. It still doesn’t have adequate storage, it still doesn’t have decontamination areas and it’s half the size of what we can build at 65th Street.” Bowers added, “Respectfully, our men and women, both career and volunteer, as well as our residents, really do deserve better than this. I believe, without a doubt, the right thing to do is continue with the project at 65th Street. It just increases our capabilities.”

About The Author: Steven Green

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The writer has been with The Dispatch in various capacities since 1995, including serving as editor and publisher since 2004. His previous titles were managing editor, staff writer, sports editor, sales account manager and copy editor. Growing up in Salisbury before moving to Berlin, Green graduated from Worcester Preparatory School in 1993 and graduated from Loyola University Baltimore in 1997 with degrees in Communications (journalism concentration) and Political Science.