(Nov. 15, 2013) Amongst a myriad of issues and questions raised at this week’s meeting with the State Highway Administration, city officials were particularly concerned with the priority being given to the Route 90 bridge, as well as traffic delays seen this past summer at 94th Street.
Although the city has long expressed a desire for the state to improve both the Route 90 and Route 50 spans, the city has recently submitted its opinion that widening of the Route 90 bridge should be completed before the Route 50 bridge is rebuilt.
Due to space constraints, no traffic could flow through downtown Ocean City’s access point during the reconstruction. If that were to happen, it would be preferable to already have increased traffic flow in place further north, so that downtown congestion would not cripple the resort.
“I’ll make the argument…that the Route 90 bridge should be ahead of repairs to the Route 50 bridge,” said Councilman Dennis Dare. “Just because there’s not going to be access over the bridge while that’s being constructed, and two lanes out over Ocean City at any time isn’t acceptable.”
However, although Mayor Rick Meehan had submitted a request to the state and county regarding the prioritization, SHA District Engineer Donnie Drewer said that the Route 90 work was not a top priority as far as the state was concerned.
“For it to get more attention, it needs to be included in the Worcester County priority letter,” Drewer said. “What you need to do is get the Worcester County Commissioners and elected officials to sign off on that.”
Currently, Drewer said, the state lists the top three priority projects in Worcester as being improvements to Route 113, Route 589, and then the Route 50 bridge.
“Where it [Route 90] is in that hierarchy, I’m not really sure,” Drewer said.
Federal highway authorities, Drewer noted, have already approved plans for a new drawbridge to be built parallel to the existing one. This would be the key element of any future replacement of the bridge. But the current structure still has 15 to 20 years of life left in it, the state estimates.
“That’s still the message. We’re going to keep the existing bridge in as good a condition as we can for as long as we can,” Drewer said.
Officials also pressed Drewer and Assistant District Engineer Ken Cimino over timing the signal a 94th Street and Coastal Highway. At the beginning of the summer, the SHA had altered the signal to give additional lead time for crossing pedestrians, as well as separate timing for turning traffic.
But with these safety improvements came significant delays in north-south traffic, with backups reported on Coastal Highway.
“From about June 30 we started to receive complaints,” Cimino said. He subsequently lowered the backup threshold on the signals, causing them to increase north-south green time sooner if a line of cars was detected.
However, this has appeared to improve, but not entirely remedy, he situation. Dare questioned if the separate phases for cross-traffic were really needed.
“Having a separate movement for the ocean block doesn’t seem to be warranted simply because of the low volume of cars there,” he said.
“We do have the volume on the bayside, though, and that’s where we’re having problems,” Cimino said. “If there’s no one at the side-streets, or there’s one or two cars there, it’s not going to give 30 seconds, it’s going to give one or two. It only gives enough time to clear the queue.
Still, some submitted that the system continued to be fundamentally flawed.
“The 94th Street light is horrendous,” said Councilman Joe Mitrecic. “We have queuing on all sides at 120th Street, and it doesn’t do what it does at 94th Street…you can sit at that light for five or six minutes.”
Mitrecic noted that many people were turning and moving north through the Little Salisbury neighborhood in order to bypass the light when trying to access the bayside of 94th Street, creating unintended traffic volumes in the residential area.
“For the sake of not beating this to death, we will watch it and continue to monitor it this summer,” Cimino conceded.
He also requested the council’s agreement to continue to study the proposed ‘road diet’ of Coastal Highway, which would widen sidewalks and potentially add a bike lane by removing one lane of traffic. The best option, Cimino said, would be to eliminate the exclusive bus lane, which has done relatively little to better the flow of buses given their frequent stops, and have buses move with the rest of traffic
Although interested in the concept, council was concerned that creating an exclusive bike lane to the far right of the road would conflict with riders getting on and off the bus.
“My concern is somebody stepping off the bus and getting hit by a bike,” Mitrecic said.