Visitors and residents of Ocean City were given a sign of relief over the weekend when Gov. Larry Hogan announced plans to advance a project that will widen Route 90 from two lanes to four.
During his announcement, which was made Saturday at the Maryland Association of Counties – or MACo – summer conference in Ocean City, Hogan said the state’s new Consolidated Transportation Program will include funding for the planning phase for Route 90 improvements.
“I am pleased to announce for the first time here today that our new CTP will include funding for the planning of the long-awaited and desperately needed MD Route 90—the gateway to Ocean City—project,” he said during his speech. “MD 90 is a top priority not only for safety, access, and the local economy, but also for its vital role in emergency response. We are very pleased to be taking this important step forward and we also look forward to working with each of you and your jurisdictions on all of the critical projects in your counties.”
Hogan’s plan will be released sometime in early September.
It is unclear what type of improvements will be included in the plan and whether a new bridge will need to be added to avoid a bottleneck of traffic once an additional lane is added each way on land.
Mayor Rick Meehan, who has been asking to dualize Route 90 for nearly 15 years, said the governor’s announcement that the project will be included in the CTP is the first step to move the project forward.
Once the planning is complete, the project can move toward design and funding.
“What we are hoping, and what we are looking for, is to add two lanes to the highway and actually dualize that entire roadway,” he said Tuesday. “The one thing that’s extremely important is the fact that first you have the bridges to address, but then on the land sections, the right of way is already owned by the State of Maryland. So, there’s no need to purchase property to expand in those areas.
“Really, that’s a big advantage that I think this project has moving forward,” Meehan added.
One of the catalysts that raised awareness to the importance of dualizing Route 90, for Meehan and the Ocean City Council 15 years ago, was a discussion about replacing the Route 50 bridge.
Replacing the Route 50 bridge cannot be considered, Meehan said, until Route 90 is dualized because if the bridge is decommissioned for any amount of time, it adds more importance to Route 90.
“The governor was absolutely correct when he said the project’s a priority for safety, for access, and for the local economy,” he said. “But the other, I think, key component is it’s essential for emergency access and critical in the case of an emergency evacuation of the town.”
Emergency vehicles travel between the resort and hospitals in Berlin and Salisbury daily.
If there is a problem on Route 50 or Route 90, traffic can be stopped in both directions, preventing ambulances from leaving town or returning to get back into service, which Meehan said will put residents and visitors in jeopardy.
Route 54, which begins just over the Delaware state line, is also a fragile egress in the sense that it is impassible during certain high tide periods.
Meehan said he has spoken with senators Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen about the importance of the Route 90 project and asked them to support funding for it as part of the federal infrastructure project. To do so, they told him plans need to be included first.
Along with the senators, Meehan has spoken with State Senate President Bill Ferguson about the project to ask for support.
“I think there is a lot of support for this project based on need throughout the state,” Meehan said. “It’s essential that this project move forward.”