The design phase for burying utilities between North Division and 15th streets in Ocean City is underway, though planners are currently stuck on how wide the sidewalks should be.
The nearly $20 million project, the bulk of which will be paid to Delmarva Power, includes the burying of all utility lines — power, cable, and phone lines —along with widening the sidewalks to include space for equipment such as transformer boxes and switches.
Sections of the roadway between 15th and 33rd streets and from the inlet to North Division Street had utilities buried years ago in the right of way as individual projects.
Like those projects, the city will pay the money out of the general fund.
Burying the lines offers two benefits. The first is that it will bolster the grid against powerful storms that take down utility poles and powerlines. The second is that it will look better, aesthetically, according to City Engineer Terry McGean.
The Baltimore Avenue right of way is 75 feet wide, but only 44 feet of that is taken up by Baltimore Avenue itself. The rest of the right of way is what the city calls an unimproved right of way, and it consists of front yards, parking lots and other properties used for similar purposes.
McGean said crews were surveying Baltimore Avenue this week, and on Nov. 30, he plans to meet with the mayor and City Council to discuss the most recent snag.
“The main presentation and discussion with the council is about the sidewalk widths,” he said. “We’ve gotten a lot of comments supporting ... widths from different stakeholders. We need to take that to the council and see if we can get direction from them on whether they want us to proceed with eight-foot sidewalks and no landscaping or if they’d like us to move forward with 10-foot sidewalks and have landscaping.”
McGean said when earlier sections were completed, trees were planted with eight-foot sidewalks. But the trees died, leading to Director of Public Works Hal Adkins to say the city put in “tree coffins.”
“That’s why we’re basically saying at eight feet, we don’t think we can put landscaping in,” McGean said.
An alternative proposal that McGean plans to suggest next week is to go with eight-foot sidewalks and allow for voluntary landscaping behind the sidewalk in the remaining unimproved right of way, which was done on the south end of Baltimore Avenue.
McGean said the city would plant the trees, take care of them for a year, and then hand them off to the property owners if they are interested in having trees in front of their properties.
“Maybe we can get some landscaping in that way, so we’ll also propose that to council,” he said.
The difference in cost between an eight-foot sidewalk with no landscaping and a 10-foot sidewalk with landscaping could be about $500,000, McGean said, though it is still too early to know for sure.
If 10-foot sidewalks were placed on both sides of Baltimore Avenue, landscaping would be on both sides of the road. But if the city goes with the voluntary option, the landscaping would be on the east side because that is where the unimproved right of way exists, according to McGean.
The city engineer hopes to have construction on the project begin in October 2022.
“The big thing right now is we’re able to continue with a lot of the preliminary data collection,” McGean said, explaining that the design phase is about 25 percent of the way done. “But we really need direction on the sidewalk widening.”
McGean plans to meet with council during its scheduled work session on Nov. 30 at 1 p.m. at City Hall.