(Sept. 19, 2014) The Route 90 bridge should be improved before building a new Route 50 bridge, Ocean City Mayor Rick Meehan told state transportation officials Tuesday.
That bridge “is the reason I’m here today,” he told Jim Smith, secretary of the Maryland Department of Transportation, Maryland State Highway Administration administrator Melinda Peters and others during the annual county visit to discuss transportation projects. Route 90, he said, is one of only three access points to the resort and it becomes more and more important every year.
When the Route 50 bridge became stuck in the open position for five hours on a Saturday afternoon this summer, traffic backed up all the way to Berlin and caused problems in West Ocean City. Almost all of the Ocean City ambulances happened to be on the other side of the bridge and, for some period of time, only one remained in the resort, Meehan said.
“This creates a significant problem,” he said.
It also points to the need to focus on the potential for natural disasters such as hurricanes.
During the busy season, up to 250,000 people at one time could be in Ocean City and “they become our responsibility.” The resort government must know it can evacuate those people, which it can do in stages during a 36-hour period, “but that’s with all access points operational,” he said.
During Superstorm Sandy, the storm surge blocked access to Route 50 and motorists couldn’t go through Delaware because of the state of its roads. If a collision had closed Route 90, “we would have had problems,” he said.
“If we lose that bridge . . . our emergency vehicles . . . our ability to respond stops,” Meehan said.
“More people are coming all the time and we need to keep them safe,” said Meehan as he asked the commissioners to make improvements to the Route 90 bridge a priority. It is time to start dualizing it, he said.
Commissioner Louise Gulyas also asked the transportation officials to make Route 90 a priority. If the Route 50 bridge was nonfunctional again, “traffic would be hellacious,” she said. “No one would get anywhere.”
The state has no funding for planning improvements for Route 90, which carries less than half the traffic that enters Ocean City, Peters said. She also said the Route 50 bridge is in good condition although a mechanical issue caused it to become stuck in the open position. It still has 15 to 20 years of life, she said. The mechanism on the bridge is not in poor shape. “It is in good working order,” she said.
Although improvements to either of the Ocean City bridges are unlikely to begin for several years, two bridges in the southern end of the county are being rehabilitated now to improve safety and operations. Both bridges are on Route 13 and cross the Pocomoke River.