SNOW HILL – Work on an expanded, safer Route 589 may not begin until 2011, state highway officials said Tuesday.
“Keep in mind, this schedule is the worse-case scenario,” said assistant project manager Tessa Young of the Maryland State Highway Administration (SHA).
District Engineer Donnie Drewer confirmed that the 2011 construction start is a worst-case schedule, but said he did not know what the earliest date would be.
“It’s not funded for construction,” Drewer said. “Each one of those four phases has to be funded.”
That four-year scenario is not entirely far-fetched, with each phase dependent on the next round of funding, none of which is guaranteed.
SHA has also said over and over that the Route 589 project will have to wait for Route 113 dualization to be complete. That project is far from done. “We want to finish 113 before we fund 589,” he said this week.
Funding for the Route 589 planning study now underway to dualize the busy highway only came through after the County Commissioners made their plea, again, for planning to begin during the annual Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) in October 2006.
A month later, MDOT had somehow found $1 million to cover all planning costs to dualize Route 589.
Common wisdom in the community holds that improvements to the increasingly busy road will take at least eight years from planning to construction, but it seems that no one knows for sure.
Changes might come sooner than estimated if slot machines come to Ocean Downs.
“If slots come to the racetrack then we could start on the road,” Commissioner Judy Boggs said. “People I’ve talked to in Ocean Pines are about split 50-50 as far as I can tell on slots. One issue everyone agrees on is traffic will be a serious problem on 589.”
Young said that alternate designs for the project should be ready for public review in winter 2008. Whittling down those alternatives to a single design, followed by right of way acquisition, could take another two to three years, if the funding is in place.
“It could take longer or maybe less. It depends on the complexity of the project,” Young said.
The planning process is waiting on summer traffic data to get going, according to Young.
“Come out this September when the school buses are running and see just how dangerous it is,” said Commissioner Louise Gulyas. “In the winter it’s almost as bad because Ocean Pines is a year-round community, and the area is a year-round community.”
“We have the winter counts. We didn’t have the updated summer counts,” Drewer said.
The community could get involved as early as winter 2008, when Young anticipates holding a public workshop on the alternatives yielded by the planning process.
Boggs asked Drewer when the commissioners should start lobbying state officials to fund the work.
Drewer replied that they already had begun to, starting before the fall 2006 MDOT tour with the county’s letter detailing transportation project priorities.
Route 589 needs some help before the dualization project, Boggs said.
“There are some issue with 589 that need immediate attention,” Boggs said. “I would like to request that a safety study be done.”
Many feel that the Cathell Rd. and Manklin Creek Rd. intersections with Route 589 are unsafe for walkers and bicyclists.
“Both of those intersections are very, very dangerous to pedestrians right now,” Boggs said.
The project will address safety as well as traffic, Young said.
“We need to address that now, before there’s a tragedy there,” said Boggs.
There is no crosswalk at Manklin Creek Rd. and Route 589 and no sidewalks on the Ocean Pines side, Drewer said, and SHA does not like to encourage people to walk where there are no safe sidewalks by putting in a crosswalk.
Not enough people cross the highway to warrant anything more, Drewer said.
“There are a lot more people who would cross if it’s safe to cross,” Boggs said.
Unless cars are required to stop for pedestrians, a crosswalk does not make crossing safer, Boggs said.
A delay specifically to cross the highway would benefit walkers and bikers but act negatively on Route 589’s heavy traffic, Commissioner Virgil Shockley said. “It’s going to be a nightmare,” he said.
Commission President Jim Purnell suggested asking Ocean Pines to put sidewalks in.
The shopping center property on the south side of Manklin Creek Rd. belongs to Bob Douglas, not the Ocean Pines Association, however.
The safety issue is the state’s decision, Boggs said, not Ocean Pines’ call to make.
“The new trend in development is to get where people can walk from their residence to shopping areas,” said Commissioner Linda Busick later. “I would like to see a sidewalk there but at whose expense?”