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SHA: Clarion light, Balt. Ave. crossings in 2015 pipeline

(Oct. 31, 2014) As most every business person knows, there’s a big difference between what you want, and what you can get – and when you’re dealing with the Maryland State Highway Administration, the gulf between the two becomes even wider.

The Town of Ocean City continued to press, during this week’s semi-annual meeting with the SHA, its desire to see Route 90 widened to two lanes each way, and Coastal Highway reconfigured with new median landscaping and state-of-the-art lighting.

Of course, this is what the town wants. What it’s likely to get is a new stoplight at 101st Street, better crosswalks in a few places, and some “wrong way” bicycle signs to prevent European kids from riding against traffic.

“I don’t have anything else to report other than that the priority in Worcester County right now is the completion of Route 113, and then we’ll start looking at other options,” said SHA District Engineer Donnie Drewer, in regard to Route 90.

Drewer’s district, District 1, covers most of the lower shore. The SHA has historically prioritized projects on a per-county basis on the recommendations of the County Commissioners. Worcester’s top priority, for many years, has been the reconstruction of 113, the county’s only north-south corridor.

With the final phases of the project in sight, Ocean City’s preferred Route 90 dualization project is largely competing with the widening of Route 589 as the county’s next most-needed piece of state-owned road improvement.

“We were able to bring to light the importance of dualizing Route 90,” Mayor Rick Meehan said regarding a recent meeting with the SHA’s top brass.

“I did get some positive response…good things take time, but hopefully we will get some traction moving forward,” Meehan said.

The SHA has also committed to a renovation of Coastal Highway’s median, which could include additional landscaping and possibly fencing to prevent pedestrians from crossing mid-block.

However, Drewer said, this will likely “move forward at a snail’s pace” as the SHA replaces a small section of median year-by-year.

“What we would like to do now is ask for the mayor and council to put together a group of citizens to help with input on what exactly we need to do to make the project worthwhile,” Drewer said.

This effort goes hand-in-hand with the proposed “road diet” project – pitched after the summer of 2012 saw a large number of pedestrian collisions – that would reduce Coastal Highway by one lane, likely eliminating the dedicated bus lane, and provide for wider sidewalks and a bike lane.

Although actual implementation is some years off, Drewer said engineers from the SHA’s central office would likely be meeting with city officials before the end of the year to go over the current engineering model.

“They’ll show you just how the traffic will operate,” Drewer said. “I think you’ll be surprised. I sure was.”

In the short-term, the SHA will continue to concentrate on several pedestrian safety improvements. Most notably, Drewer’s team has been given clearance to install a signal at 101st Street that would stop traffic for crossing pedestrians at the Clarion.

Similar signals exist already at 54th Street, across from Macky’s, and 49thStreet, across from Seacrets. The former was installed this past spring with upgraded lighting, which is also slated to go in at 49thStreet.

Although the improvements are not scheduled to be finished until fall of 2015, Drewer is lobbying the SHA’s central office for the work to be finished before the 2015 tourism season hits.

Councilman Dennis Dare put in a plug for upgraded LED lighting not just at 49th Street, but also along the entire Coastal Highway median. Although better for safety and energy costs, the start-up price of the fixtures is largely prohibitive for the state.

“The median and the first two lanes are pretty dark, and when we have pedestrians in dark clothing it’s almost impossible to see them,” Dare said. “As we progress though the road diet and the median work, I just want to point out the importance of proper lighting.”

The state will also be working this winter to install concrete extensions, or “bump-outs” to the crosswalks on Baltimore Avenue at Third Street, and from Ninth to 15th Streets, putting the curb out past the row of parallel-parked cars for better visibility of pedestrians.

“What they do is narrow the crossing,” said Assistant District Engineer Dallas Baker. “If you’re standing on the sidewalk now, and you want to cross Baltimore Avenue, you are on the back side of the on-street parking. This would create a bump-out, so that when you’re at the edge of the curb, you’re at the outside of the parking lane, and when you look you can see the cars coming.”

At 13 locations along Coastal Highway, the SHA will also be installing wheelchair-accessible sidewalk ramps as well as countdown clocks for the signalized crossings.

Additionally, 45 locations have been identified to install “wrong-way” signs for bicyclists.

Earlier this summer, the Ocean City Police Department noted an uptick in the number of bicycle-vs-vehicle collisions along Coastal Highway. The month of June 2014 alone saw 10, where there were none in 2013.

Council members and other officials have noted that foreign student-workers, unfamiliar with U.S. traffic laws, frequently ride against traffic.

The city had also requested new signage on Coastal Highway directing visitors to the Ocean City Senior Center at 41st Street, and to Northside Park. However, the SHA’s policy is that public attractions must have a minimum draw of 35,000 annual visitors to be considered for highway signage.

“It’s our understanding that the Senior Center did not meet those numbers,” Baker said. “Northside may meet those numbers, but what we would need from Ocean City is a study to quantify those numbers.”

“I can assure you Northside Park does meet those numbers, without question,” Meehan said. “Is there any other direction we can take [with the Senior Center] given who goes there?”

“I can guarantee I’ll ask, but I can’t guarantee the response,” Drewer replied.

The city also apparently had some concerns about the length of time the fencing on the Route 50 Bridge, which divides the road and sidewalk, had been left un-repaired this past summer after a traffic accident.

Some repair materials are available locally, but the SHA’s own bureaucracy makes repairs time-consuming.

“They have the fence fabric, but they do not stock the pipe angles…whenever somebody hits it, we have to get two bids for the work. It takes time, but that’s the procedure,” Drewer said.

Baker also noted that the SHA plans to have design work done by next year on a bicycle and pedestrian pathway in West Ocean City, from Stephen Decatur High School to the Route 50 Bridge, which would improve travel for those persons without automobiles who work in the resort but live outside of town.

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