BERLIN – While local elected officials and private citizens privy to the unveiling of the working plan for slots at Ocean Downs on Wednesday were largely supportive, concerns about the potential impacts on Route 589 certainly dominated a large portion of the discussion.
Ocean Downs officials on Wednesday presented tentative plans for slots at the historic track to members of the Maryland Video Lottery Commission and the public including 200 gaming machines in the existing clubhouse not long after the anticipated state approval and as many as 800 in a renovated grandstand in about two years down the road. The developer will bear the responsibility of mitigating any traffic impacts on nearby roadways including Route 589.
“I will have to dedicate a lot of property up front for the widening of Route 589,” said track owner William Rickman, Jr. “I know that going in. I anticipate having to do something for [Route] 589, but we won’t know until we go in for a building permit.”
County officials have made improvements to Route 589 a top priority, and State Highway Administration (SHA) officials are already exploring options, regardless of what happens with slots.
“With or without slots, Route 589 is a problem child for us,” said SHA District Engineer Donnie Drewer. “There were studies commissioned and we’re in the second year of those. There will likely be a short-term proposal and a proposal for as far down the road as 2030. Funding is the big issue right now.”
Drewer said the plan for slots at Ocean Downs complicates the equation somewhat, but he remains confident any impacts will be resolved. He also reminded those in attendance Ocean Downs will be responsible for only those impacts caused by future slots at the track.
“Our position is to meet with Mr. Rickman and take a look at his own traffic analysis,” he said. “Whatever traffic problems come out if this, he would have to mitigate. I can guarantee you if slots are approved here, we’ll be able to handle the traffic because Mr. Rickman will do what he is required to do. By the same token, asking Mr. Rickman to dualize Route 589 from Route 50 to Route 113 is out of the question.”
When asked about funding for any future improvements to the highway, Drewer said the current economic situation made it uncertain.
“We haven’t put any dollar amounts on it,” he said. “It depends on what we have to do. The first thing I envision is adding another left turn lane on eastbound Route 50 onto Route 589. Of course, if you add a second turn lane on Route 50, you’re going to have to add a lane on Route 589 to accept that traffic or you haven’t accomplished anything.”
Rickman said the discussion about the traffic impact on Route 589 caused by slots might be a little premature because of the relatively low number of machines he is seeking in the early phases.
“You have to remember 800 slot machines is not a big facility,” he said. “It might not create as much of an impact on Route 589 as you think. There will be less traffic out there then during live racing really because it will be spread out all day long. There’s less traffic at this facility today then there was 10 years ago.”
Nonetheless, Commissioner Judy Boggs said the traffic issues have to be examined sooner rather than later.
“Route 589 has to be widened to a nice boulevard regardless of whether slots are approved here or not,” she said. “We know a nice, landscaped boulevard will not magically appear with the advent of slots, but we do desire substantial improvements on Route 589 to Route 50. It’s a safety issue and the improvements are needed before slots arrive.”