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MDOT unveils Route 90 study in virtual talk

Several potential solutions to summertime traffic woes discussed with timetables

By Jack Chavez, Staff Writer

It’s still going to be a while before earth is moved, but possibilities for what a wider Route 90 might look like are becoming clearer.

Officials from the Maryland Department of Transportation hosted a virtual Q&A with the public on June 21 to discuss the state’s findings during its current study phase and went over some general ideas that the department is considering.

The goal of the study and impending project will be to address traffic woes that have gotten worse over the last few decades. The study has already shown that weekend traffic in the summer peak season has grown to 31,300 vehicles per day. The state expects that number to increase by 10 percent by 2045.

Currently, slow-downs approaching Coastal Highway can make the average trip down the length of Route 90 toward Ocean City 31 minutes. St. Martins Neck backups go back to Route 589.

Those backups could extend to Route 113 and going the length of Route 90 could take more than 50 minutes by 2045 if nothing is done, project manager Jeremy Beck said.

There were four options discussed:

*A no-build option, which mostly serves as a baseline for impacts caused by the other options.

*A three-lane option that would add one eastbound lane and possibly reconfigure the bay bridges for three lanes.

*An all-new, four-lane roadway with a wide, grassy median, flanking shoulder lanes and all-new bridges over the St. Martins Neck River and Assawoman Bay.

*A four-lane roadway separated by a barrier with new lanes attached to either side.

Throughout the Q&A session, MDOT officials stressed that the Route 90 project’s initial studies are still being conducted.

Beck gave a rough timetable for everything up through preliminary design. He said the study findings and preliminary concepts would be presented to the public later this summer and that a study report would be published. Potential standalone projects would be identified sometime between this fall and next year. Then, if all goes according to plan, the project move into the environmental review and preliminary design phase.

Part of the study points out that the bridges of St. Martin’s Neck River and Assawoman Bay — both built in 1970 — are nearing the end of their useful service life.

Later in the presentation, it had to be clarified that the bridges were still safe to drive on and that the issue more denotes rising maintenance and upkeep costs that come with a bridge’s age.

Pedestrian and bicyclist access was also talked about as a goal in the study.

“Although the focus of this study is to enhance vehicular flow and safety on Maryland 90, MDOT-SHA wants to explore pedestrian and bicyclist travel needs as well,” Beck said.

Currently, neither pedestrians nor bicyclists are allowed on Route 90 as it is classified as an expressway.

Environmental analyst Barb Weedon talked about the two-mile radius out from the roadway that the study undertakes and the many natural resources in the area — coastal and inland environments, freshwater, estuaries, critical areas, vast flora and protected fauna.

She noted the “distinctive change in land use” from agriculture closer to Route 50 to more suburban closer to Ocean City.

Sea-level rising and flooding potential will also be analyzed in the study.

In the actual question portion of the presentation, Worcester County Chief Administrative Officer Weston Young asked what assurances there were that funding will still be available for the project after Gov. Larry Hogan leaves office?

“While there’s no guarantee that something could change, the one benefit of this funding is that it’s federal,” said an official who did not identify himself. “When we see issues with state revenues, a lot of times we have to make some very difficult decisions and modify our programming levels. That can impact projects.”

“With federal funds, they’re very consistent over time and we’ve been very fortunate that when projects are on a federal path, there is … more stability with those projects.”

Another question dealt with the intersection of Route 90 and St. Martins Neck Road and addressing traffic buildup there.

Beck said that MDOT is “looking at different concepts on traffic needs there, which could include grade separation or interchange,” plus other possible concepts.

This story appears in the print version of the Bayside Gazette on June 30, 2022.