Ocean City Today

Resort spending fraction of what’s necessary to fix roads

By Katie Tabeling | Apr 20, 2017
File Photo

(April 21, 2017) Ocean City’s Public Works Department will be working over the next nine months to revise a running document on the status of the island’s roads – and providing a more accurate estimate of what it will cost to repair each one of them.

According to the inventory list created in 2008, it would take $26.31 million at this juncture to improve every city street. Although 807 roads overall crisscross Ocean City, roughly 100 are out of the city’s oversight as they are private lanes or handled by the State Highway Administration.

“Because we’ve been so progressive in the last fiscal years, we can drill down that number even further,” Public Works Director Hal Adkins said. “We recently finished some minor surface milling from 132nd Street to 142nd street Oceanside. Using price orders from that we can calculate the cost per square yard. We also did an overhaul of Yawl Drive last year, so we have accurate information on similar projects.”

In the past 16 years, the city has spent $27.06 million on road improvements and even though that’s about what the public works department would need to spend in one year were it to do all road repairs, the city has been spending about $2 million annually. Last fiscal year, Public Works received $2.5 million, which was used to repair 19 roads.

Adkins said that his department is fortunate to receive the funding, but estimated that he would need $30 million a year to catch up.

“I know we have a balancing act, but I’m basing this on cold, hard facts,” he said. “You will never be totally caught up on this. Roadway maintenance is a revolving issue.”

Part of the problem is the scope of road repairs that need to be done. Public Works has categorized the roads on its 2008 inventory sheet based on their appearance. Of approximate 700 roads in the city’s oversight, 462 of them have been given a clean bill of health or have been repaired in minor ways. There are 189 streets that appear to be the preliminary stages of failure. Those could be repaired with milling or sealing cracks.

There are 52 roads that had substantial cracks, looking similar to the back of an alligator, when Public Works did its survey in 2008. Since water could seep through the cracks and weaken the sub-base, those roads would need thousands of dollars in reconstruction.

Adkins compared systematically repaving the roads like painting the Chesapeake Bridge. Once the city would finish one end, it would be time to start over again at the opposite side.

“That’s why when you look at the inventory list, I try to select a portion of those that will need an overlay and simple milling. If I simply focus on the ones that [need serious replacement] the others would [deteriorate],” Adkins said. “I’m trying to maximize the productivity of any given year so that when we improve these streets they last another 25 years.”

Complicating the matter even further is that repairing a road could also involve several others as a way to prepare for Ocean City’s future developments. When Adkins is considering repairing a street that is in the early cracking stages, he contacts the Water, Wastewater, and Engineering Departments to see what is underneath it.

“Wastewater would do a report on the line, whether there’s failures or if it was made out asbestos or clay like in the past,” he said. “If the water main is a lead pipe, we might want to replace it or put in an 8-inch line if there’s going to be future developments. If there’s empty lots in the area, we look if the sewer laterals are capped off.”

The gas, electric, telephone and cable companies would have input if they would like to make upgrades. If so, they are required by the town’s franchise agreement to work concurrently with Public Works.

“Last thing I’d want to do is pave a new street and have someone have a building permit to dig it up,” Adkins said.

In addition, there’s a question whether the proper foundation of the roads was laid during their development. Since a majority of the city’s neighborhoods were built during the 1970s and 1980s, the roads were created by laying two inches of asphalt over dirt or sand. When a road surface needs to be removed, that’s what Adkins typically finds.

“We don’t find that nice cross section you get when we overlay more pavement or seal cracks. So to rebuild it correctly, you have to excavate eight inches of soil. Then I need to bring stone in, compact it, and then pave on top.”

Included in the FY18 budget is $2.01 million for street renovations. Adkins has identified 22 streets that hoped to work on, and now he’s narrowing that number down.

In the future, he plans to take his team and examine the roads again in the next nine months. That way, the city will have an updated snapshot of the road improvements made in the last 10 years.

“It’s not as simple as saying, ‘Wow, that street over there needs a coat of pavement on it,’” he said. “It’s far more intense, investigation-wise, before you decide which [streets] are logical to improve in a given year.”

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