Ocean City Today

OC pushes for Route 90 dualization priority

Local officials must identify new top roads project as Route 113 nearly complete
By Brian Gilliland | Oct 12, 2017

(Oct. 13 2017) As Worcester County’s priority highway project for the last several decades nears completion, the county faces a question it hasn’t asked in a long time: What’s next?

With the expansion of Route 113 to a four-lane highway from Delaware to Pocomoke down to the final few miles, the county commissioners’ annual meeting with state transportation department representatives and local officials on Tuesday looked to the future.

From Ocean City Mayor Rick Meehan’s perspective, that future should focus on expanding Route 90.

For a long while, the smart money was on the resort requesting the replacement of the Harry Kelley drawbridge on Route 50. But now officials think they can get another decade or two out of the aging structure, leaving plenty of time to get part of Route 90 expanded.

Jim Ports, deputy secretary of the department of transportation, led the meeting, and, along with state highway administrator Greg Slater, suggested that smaller, needs-based projects were more likely to be funded.

The local politicians took the hint, and concentrated on just the section of Route 90 that stretches from the junction of Route 589 to the beach.

Commissioner President Jim Bunting, a surveyor who did some of the original work laying out this section of the road, said the property acquisition, rights of way and utilities were already planned for during the highway’s construction in the 1970s. That would make dualization for this section of the expressway considerably easier, he said.

“The priority was always Route 50 but now we need to think about it in a new way,” Bunting said.

Meehan said expanding the road was a public safety issue.

“The Route 113 dualization was imperative, but now we’re facing the same issues on Route 90,” he said.

Meehan called the road “inherently dangerous” not only because of the head-on collisions that occasionally occur there, but also to other travelers who must make way for emergency responders seeking to render aid along a narrow, two-lane highway featuring a pair of two-lane bridges.

Resort Fire Chief Chris Larmore said a study conducted in 2001 estimated traffic on Route 90 would grow by 30 percent by this time, but that number has already been exceeded.

“We transport 3,000 patients annually,” he said. “The vast majority of those using Route 90.”

When an accident occurs on Route 90, both lanes of traffic are frequently closed, sometimes for hours. If that accident occurs somewhere along the bridges, other motor vehicles must inch aside to allow emergency vehicles through.

Evacuation of the resort in an emergency is also an issue, Meehan said.

“We’re not immune. We’re prepared but have been lucky. The time is coming and we all know it,” Meehan said.

Supporting the mayor’s point was Ocean City Emergency Services Director Joe Theobald.

“Delmarva is one of the hardest areas to evacuate — studies have shown this. Route 90 is more important” than replacing the Route 50 bridge, he said.

Meehan said in the event of a storm that warrants a complete evacuation of the resort, the northernmost access points to Ocean City — the Delaware portions of Route 54 and Coastal Highway are likely to be closed by flooding.

Ports said the first step is for the county to compose a letter declaring its priority project, which apparently has not yet been done. The commissioners took no formal action on the letter during the meeting.

Apart from the road priority discussions, Ports and Slater also outlined three projects expected to be complete by July 1, 2018.

Scheduled to begin next week, the state will begin repaving Coastal Highway between 62nd Street and 26th Street, while also beginning construction of the median fence intended to deter jaywalking.

The two aforementioned bridges along Route 90 crossing the St. Martin River and the Assawoman Bay will also see some rehabilitation work, which, Slater said, will be conducted from the water and shouldn’t affect traffic.

Finally, the sidewalks from 62nd Street down south to the convention center will be reconstructed to be Americans With Disabilities Act compliant.

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