The special event zone scheduled to be implemented in Ocean City during the pop-up car rally expected to take place this month may be extended to cover all of Worcester County, according to local authorities.
When Ocean City imposes the special event zone from Tuesday, Sept. 21 through Sunday, Sept. 26, speed limits throughout the city will be dropped to 30 mph, except on streets where the speed limit is lower.
Police also plan to be on the lookout for illegal car modifications and faulty equipment like broken tail lamps inside the special event zone.
During a meeting of the Ocean City Motor Event Task Force last Friday, Chief Deputy Douglas Dods of the Worcester County Sheriff’s Office said that agency will be helping Ocean City Police control the crowds and enforcing traffic safety during the pop-up rally. As part of those efforts, Dods said his office is working to impose a special event zone for the entire county, though it would need to be approved by the Worcester County Commissioners.
County Commissioner Joseph Mitrecic, who represents the Ocean City district, said he would “absolutely “sign the special event zone into place for the entire county.
OCPD Chief Ross Buzzuro said his department will be “all hands-on deck” during the pop-up this year, adding that there will be more than 40 tow trucks from 20 companies ready to tow vehicles for violations and illegal modifications.
The task force last met in April to discuss the rally, and was made up of several local elected officials, local and state law enforcement agencies, and others like State’s Attorney Kristin Heiser, Maryland Secretary of Transportation Greg Slater, and the Ocean City Chamber of Commerce.
Friday’s meeting was a follow-up to the April meeting, making sure all the pieces were in place for a successful campaign.
“We believe that we’re ready for the event,” Buzzuro said. “For us, we’re hoping for the best.”
He added that he did not want the police to be in a position where they are in conflict with the rally participants, and he expects there to be a “reasonable degree of compliance.”
But just in case, Buzzuro said, plans have been developed to curtail any illegal activity.
Though the chief could not go into details on every aspect of the department’s strategy, he said residents and visitors can expect the deployment of officers to be consistent with what it’s done in the past, though there will be more officers on duty on Sunday than previously.
Buzzuro also said the department is prepared to change the traffic patterns to divert traffic out of Ocean City should traffic affect the ability of fire and rescue vehicles answers call for help.
“Traffic is going to be heavy,” he said, adding that if people don’t need to be on Coastal Highway, it should be avoided.
State Police will also assist in Ocean City.
According to Heiser, more than 500 cases were charged because of the pop-up rally last year. That figure does not include minor infractions and traffic citations in the county. In Ocean City, police charged 396 of those cases, many of which are still working their way through the system because a court backlog caused in part by the covid-19 pandemic. Of those cases, 80 percent have been resolved, Heiser added, and of those that were resolved, there was a 90 percent conviction rate.
“I’m very grateful for the law enforcement and their efforts,” she said. “We are busy, but we are getting it done.”
One of the issues Heiser and her team are encountering, though, is when they ask for the maximum fine to be imposed, the courts are not interested. She said she speculates that similar statutes have lesser fines, and the courts could see this as people being treated differently than the others the rest of the year.
“They are treating each case on its own merit, which they should,” Heiser said.
Last year, a man who attended the pop-up did donuts on the Chesapeake Bay bridge, which ultimately resulted in a conviction.
As a result of acts like that, Slater explained, there will be more enforcement along Route 50 between the bay bridge and Ocean City.
“The greatest concern ... is about safety,” he said.
To get additional police agencies on board, the state offered grants to places such as Denton on Route 404 in Caroline County and Wicomico County to target instances of aggressive driving, speeding, close driving, and vehicle equipment violations.
In Ocean City, though, more measures are going to be implemented, including rumble strips and temporary speed bumps on back streets.
In April, Councilman Tony DeLuca asked State Highway officials to place temporary speed bumps along Coastal Highway, but on Friday it was discovered that doing so would require federal approval because those roads receive federal aid.
“The answer last year was that it was a state issue,” DeLuca said of a state highway administration representative. “He led us to believe we could test them. Now a year later, he says it’s a federal problem.”
When he pressed Slater if it was possible to get sign off for the speed bumps in four weeks, Slater said he could ask, but he did not know what the answer would be.
Adding rumble strips to Coastal Highway, Buzzuro said, could introduce more negatives than positive. But the ones his department plans to place on streets could be moved around town.
Another aspect of the pop-up rally that the task force addressed was making sure private businesses have private security.
Mayor Rick Meehan said the city will be reaching out to several problem properties where rally participants and spectators tend to swarm and asking them to get private security.
During the meeting, it was obvious that several officials had had enough of the shenanigans that have come along with the pop-up in previous years.
The question of hosting events at the inlet parking lot or convention center lot was asked during the meeting, and Councilman John Gehrig said it has been tried before and did not work because people got bored.
“The terrorists are going to terrorize,” he said.
A new plan was presented to the mayor and City Council in August to bring a large-scale concert on the level of the famed Lollapalooza to Ocean City on the same weekend as the pop-up rally, and while some see the pop-up attendees going to the concert, others, like Gehrig, are not as optimistic.
“We need to make it harder for them to come here – more expensive,” he said. “We’re going to have a lot of people in town, but enough is enough.”