Money will pay to complete planning for safety, access upgrades, lane dualization
By Mallory Panuska, Staff Writer
The light at the end of the tunnel of bumper-to-bumper traffic on Route 90 got brighter this week when state officials announced that a large chunk of cash is allocated for improvements to the major resort corridor.
Gov. Larry Hogan announced Monday from a grassy spot in Isle of Wight Park in Worcester County that $15 million is headed to Maryland Department of Transportation State Highway Administration officials to accelerate planning and move to the design phase of improvements to the nearly 12-mile stretch from Route 50 to mid Ocean City as part of the state’s longtime Reach the Beach campaign.
“In 1987, Governor William Donald Schaefer launched a ‘Reach the Beach’ effort in order to modernize the state’s transportation infrastructure, relieve beach-bound traffic congestion, and to make summer travel easier across the state,” Hogan said during the news conference. “After decades of inaction, our goal has been to finally fulfill that ‘Reach the Beach’ mission. By moving forward on a new Chesapeake Bay crossing and with the modernization of [Route] 90 — the Gateway to Ocean City — we will be providing a safe, efficient, 21st-century transportation system for the Eastern Shore, which will allow us to continue to grow our economy, and which will ensure that Marylanders and visitors alike can enjoy all that Ocean City and the Eastern Shore have to offer.”
The money will advance plans to widen Route 90 from two lanes to four and make other improvements that will help relieve traffic during busy times. The major throughway provides easier access to middle and north Ocean City through a connection to Route 50 at 62nd Street, and frequently gets backed up during peak times. Improvements have been a major priority for resort officials, who have pushed for funding help for years.
“This has been a top priority of the [mayor and City Council] for the last 10 years,” Mayor Rick Meehan said in an email this week. “It is not only important to accommodate the increased traffic coming into Ocean City but it is imperative to address our ability to continue to provide police, emergency fire and ambulance services, and emergency evacuations when necessary.”
Hogan pointed out during his news conference that the western end of the road carries about 33,000 vehicles a day during the busy summer months, and also serves as a primary hurricane evacuation route.
Built roughly five decades ago, Route 90 was initially constructed to give tourists access to growing areas of northern Ocean City, as well as the blossoming communities of Showell and Ocean Pines. It crosses St. Martin River and Assawoman Bay on two bridge spans, which are slated for expansion in the preliminary improvement plans.
Hogan announced last summer that the Route 90 project would be a state priority, given its role in bringing tourists to the Eastern Shore and supporting the local residents. He followed the declaration with an $850,000 allocation within the state’s consolidated transportation program to launch the planning phase.
As part of that effort, MDOT SHA representatives are conducting a survey and will host a virtual public meeting at 6:30 p.m., June 21. During the meeting, officials will share details of the project and allow members of the public to ask questions. To access the link and view other information about the meeting, visit mdot-sha-md90-us50-to-md528-wo782b11-maryland.hub.arcgis.com.
“This is an opportunity for the public to become aware of the scope of the project and to provide input on the importance of the project to this entire area,” Meehan said of the meeting.
Meehan also said that officials are supportive of the Reach the Beach plan, and are happy to see that state leaders are helping facilitate it.
“The volume of traffic coming to the eastern shore and Ocean City increases every year,” Meehan said. “The Reach the Beach plan ensures that our eastern shore residents and our visitors will be able to make this trip in a safe manner and reduce troublesome delays during peak travel times. It will benefit shore residents that have a commute to the western shore, the delivery of goods and services, and the vacation travel experience of our visitors.”
While Route 90 has been the primary transportation priority, and will remain number one until funding is fully secured for the whole project, Meehan said that improvements to Route 589 should be tackled simultaneously. He also said the future replacement of the Route 50 bridge, the other major corridor for the resort, is a long-term goal.
After the planning phase is finished, the Route 90 improvements will move to design, and then construction.
This story appears in the print version of the Bayside Gazette on June 16, 2022.