SNOW HILL – After an inconclusive discussion by the County Commissioners on the Route 50 bridge options proposed by the state, one commissioner said she was happy the bridge is not the county’s responsibility.
“I’m glad it’s not a county problem,” said Commissioner Judy Boggs.
Several of the commissioners had unanswered questions after the informal discussion, prompted by Comprehensive Planning Director Sandy Coyman’s report on recent public workshops on the remaining four bridge options offered by the State Highway Administration (SHA).
Coyman recommended that the commissioners endorse option number four, a continuous span without a drawbridge, located north of the existing bridge. Option four would allow a freer flow of traffic, Coyman said, with no drawbridge openings.
The additional costs would be worth it, compared to rehabilitating the existing bridge, he said, because the new bridge would last over twice as long as the repaired existing bridge.
Several commissioners questioned the details. The SHA said it would retain the existing bridge, which is a historic structure and cannot be demolished, for fishing, biking and walking.
That does not make sense to the commissioners, who wondered what would happen when boats needed to go north in the bays.
“Why have a [new] span big enough for boats to go under if you’re going to have to open the other bridge?” Boggs said.
If the drawbridge were removed from the existing bridge, there would be little reason for pedestrians and bicyclists to use it.
Others see bigger obstacles. Land acquisition is likely to be a problem, with land prices still high, and in some cases climbing, on either end of the bridge.
“If something gets built on that property, it would be too expensive for State Highway to buy it,” said Coyman.
With all the building in Ocean City and West Ocean City, there could be nowhere for a new span to go except onto costly, already developed land, feared Boggs.
“They’re just closing in the bridge so it’s eliminating the options,” she said.
Several commissioners supported retaining the existing bridge.
“Just repair the bridge,” said Commissioner Louise Gulyas.
“That’s what we need to do,” County Commissioner Virgil Shockley said.
There will be a point when rehabbing the bridge would be more expensive than building a new one, Coyman said, and the older structure would only last another 40 years, while a new one would still be around in 100.
“It’s a dramatic difference,” Coyman said.
No construction or repairs would begin for at least a decade, leaving the local situation time to change dramatically.
“The bridge is a long way down the road,” Boggs said.
Commissioner Bud Church, who represents West Ocean City, said any decision is a long time coming.
“I think the plan will change several times before they decide what to do,” said Church.
Shockley said the option the commissioners favor may matter little.
“State highway is going to do what it wants to do anyway,” said Shockley.