By Cindy Hoffman, Staff Writer
(March 2, 2023) Ocean Pines residents who want to get to the beach club on a nice summer day know how congested Route 90 can get. Eastbound traffic queues can extend nearly six miles on Fridays approaching Ocean City, and more than 7.5 miles Saturdays during peak times.
That’s only to be expected when this two-lane spur off Route 50 is the only route into midtown Ocean City, and one of just three that connect the resort and its hundreds of thousands of weekly visitors to the mainland.
That’s why the State Highway Administration (SHA) is evaluating improvements along the Route 90 corridor between Route 50 and Coastal Highway. As part of this effort, SHA initiated the Route 90 Planning and Environmental Linkages (PEL) study. The results of this study were released on Feb. 23.
“The MD 90 Planning and Environmental Linkages Study helps us explore strategies to improve service for all those who use MD 90, from vacationers and local residents to business travelers and emergency responders,” said Maryland Department of Transportation Acting Secretary Paul J. Wiedefeld.
As part of the study, the SHA conducted an online survey of the public to prioritize projects for the corridor that could be considered in planning and design efforts related to traffic operations, capacity, safety, pedestrian and bicyclist accessibility and emergency evacuation. The survey included proposals for additional lanes, intersection improvements and new bridges over the St. Martin River and the Assawoman Bay.
A total of 386 people responded to the survey, with 85 percent of the respondents saying they would use Route 90 more often if congestion was reduced. Ninety percent of those surveyed agreed that improvements were needed along Route 90, and more than half of respondents thought that improvements were needed most along the highway at the Assawoman Bay Bridge, followed by the St. Martin River Bridge (47 percent), the intersection with St. Martin’s Neck Road (46 percent) and Route 589 to St. Martin River (44 percent).
The road, which has a 55 mph speed limit, is a primary evacuation route for Ocean City during a severe weather event or emergency.
“It is our mission to protect and enhance Maryland communities, we know mobility, accessibility, safety and reliability are vital components. This study will help us and our community partners chart a course of action,” said Wiedefeld.
The goals of the project include accommodating existing and future traffic needs, including access for bicycles and pedestrians; improving the level of safety on this well-traveled roadway; improving accessibility during evacuation events; and improving flooding resilience and adaptation.
The Ocean Pines Association Board of Directors passed a motion on Nov. 19, 2022 to email the department of transportation and the Worcester County Commissioners its endorsement of the efforts by the Worcester County Bike and Pedestrian Coalition regarding the proposed Route 90 Project, according to board President Doug Parks.
Six concepts were developed and evaluated: one no-build concept and five build concepts. Concepts two and three meet all of the goals for the project.
Concept two includes a divided four-lane stretch from Route 113 to Coastal Highway, retaining the existing median barrier, and a new four-lane bridge to the north or south of the existing bridge. Approximately 39 percent of respondents liked this concept.
Concept three includes a divided four lanes from Route 113 to Coastal Highway with a grass median; a new two-lane roadway north of the existing road for westbound lanes, with the existing road becoming eastbound lanes and a new four-lane bridge to the north or south of the existing bridge.
“The MD 90 study provides us with the information we need to accurately access this vital corridor and summarize recommendations to help us prioritize projects,” said State Highway Administration Administrator Tim Smith.
Already, $15 million has been programmed to advance preliminary design and National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) activities along the Route 90 corridor.
To address traffic congestion in the near term, a project to provide an additional eastbound lane on Route 90 could be advanced as an independent project. The preliminary design and corridor studies would contribute towards the development of a long-term strategy for the highway.
The State Highway Administration anticipates moving forward with preliminary design and evaluations for potential corridor solutions beginning this spring. To see the full report, visit the MDOT SHA website under the project portal page.